From The Marbles

  • The caution was from laps 358-386. (Getty)
    The caution was from laps 358-386. And constituted nearly 6 percent of Sunday’s race distance. (Getty)

    NASCAR defended its handling of a 29-lap caution with less than 150 laps to go in Sunday’s race at Martinsville won by Jimmie Johnson.

    The caution came out after Carl Edwards hit the wall during green flag pit stops, which are incredibly rare at the half-mile track. When Edwards hit the wall, NASCAR had to sort out a complicated scoring order that included drivers who had already made pit stops and those that hadn’t.

    Cautions during green-flag pit stop sequences happen on occasion, so NASCAR is used to sorting out scoring in these types of instances. But it was, as Jeff Gordon said, “kind of a disaster” at Martinsville and took nearly 30 laps to sort out between laps 358 and 386 of the 500-lap race.

    “We took our time and we want to get it right,” Sprint Cup Series managing director Richard Buck said. “We know what the stakes are and we felt we got it right.”

    Read More »from NASCAR says it got race lineup correct during 29-lap caution at Martinsville
  • Jimmie Johnson will be racing for a record-tying seventh championship at Homestead in three weeks.

    Johnson won Sunday’s race at Martinsville to automatically advance to the winner-take-all race of NASCAR’s Chase at Homestead on Nov. 20. Johnson won his sixth championship in 2013, the last year before NASCAR changed the format of the Chase to eliminate drivers and create a four-way race for the championship on the final weekend of the season.

    “I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven and now I can’t,” Johnson said.

    Only Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty have seven championships. Johnson already has a claim to be considered the best driver in Cup Series history. It gets stronger if (or when) he ties the sport’s two icons.

    “I’ll probably lie to all of you guys and say I’m not going to think about it at all,” Johnson said. “But it’s inevitable. Fortunately, I don’t have to think about it for three weeks. But we’re going to enjoy this

    Read More »from Jimmie Johnson wins at Martinsville to clinch chance at 7th championship
  • Martin Truex Jr. got his fifth pole of 2016 at Martinsville. (Getty)
    Martin Truex Jr. got his fifth pole of 2016 at Martinsville. (Getty)

    We’ll avoid a MartinTruexsville joke while informing you that Martin Truex Jr. will start first for Sunday’s race at Martinsville.

    It’s the fifth pole of 2016 for Truex and comes a week after he was eliminated from the second round of the Chase. Truex started first last week at Talladega but ended up finishing last after his engine blew up just 41 laps into the 188-lap race.

    Joey Logano qualified second, the highest Chase driver in the field. Logano was the dominant car during the 2015 Martinsville fall race but was taken out by Matt Kenseth in revenge for Kenseth’s spin off Logano’s bumper two weeks prior at Kansas.

    Five of the eight remaining Chase drivers made the third and final round of qualifying. The only Joe Gibbs Racing car that didn’t make the final round was Matt Kenseth, who will start 17th. The Stewart-Haas Racing drivers of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are the only two Chase drivers starting behind

    Read More »from Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Martinsville
  • Sunday is Jeff Gordon's 805th -- and possibly final -- Sprint Cup Series start. (Getty)
    Sunday is Jeff Gordon’s 805th — and possibly final — Sprint Cup Series start. (Getty)

    Jeff Gordon isn’t making a firm commitment that Sunday’s race at Martinsville is his last Sprint Cup Series race.

    The defending Martinsville champion came out of retirement to fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon has driven seven races in 2016 for Junior and Sunday is set to be his eighth and final race in the No. 88.

    “Your guess is as good as mine, Gordon said with a laugh when he was asked if Sunday was his last race. “I can promise you I had no intentions of this happening, but here I am. Never say never is all I know what to say. I really don’t think that I will be getting back in the Cup car again, but go ask [team owner] Rick Hendrick. That really has more to do with him than anything else.

    “I hope in the future that the drivers don’t have a situation like what we had with Junior where they need somebody to fill in for them …  If I had to do it, then certainly I would,

    Read More »from Is Martinsville Jeff Gordon's last Cup race? Probably, but 'never say never'
  • Denny Hamlin is one of four Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the third round of the Chase. (Getty)
    Denny Hamlin is one of four Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the third round of the Chase. (Getty)

    Denny Hamlin strongly supports what his teammates did at Talladega to advance to the third round of the Chase.

    Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth occupied the last three spots in the top 30 on Sunday as they purposefully ran behind the leaders the entire day. Each driver had a big enough cushion in the points standings to ensure moving on to the third round with a top-30 finish. There was no sense running up front and risk getting crashed.

    Thanks to a blown engine at Charlotte, the first race of the Chase’s second round, Hamlin didn’t have the same luxury his teammates did. He needed a good finish to advance. He got it, finishing third and moving on to the third round via a tiebreaker with Austin Dillon.

    “I thought it was smart,” Hamlin said of what his teammates did. “From my standpoint I knew we had an uphill battle because we weren’t going to have any teammates all day, I knew that we

    Read More »from Hamlin says if JGR didn't do Talladega strategy it'd have been 'dumbest group in history'
  • Jimmie Johnson missed out on the third round of the Chase in 2014 and 2015. (Getty)
    Jimmie Johnson missed out on the third round of the Chase in 2014 and 2015. (Getty)

    Jimmie Johnson doesn’t think you can point to one of the eight remaining drivers in the Chase and designate a favorite.

    Johnson is in the third round of the Chase for the first time in the three-year history of the current Chase format. He got to the third round by winning the first race of the second round, his first win since the fifth race of the season.

    The six-time champion said Friday that it’s hard to find a favorite because of the excellence it takes in the third round to advance to the final round at Homestead.

    “You need to have three clean [races] or win,” Johnson said. “Three top-threes or three top fives to advance with points I believe.  It’s no layup by any means. The biggest reason why it is different is at this point there would be two or three cars you would have to worry about [in] the Chases that I have won the way the format was. Now there are eight guys on the table, and then it goes

    Read More »from Jimmie Johnson: 'Impossible' to pick favorite in Chase with 4 races left
  • Kyle Busch has driven in 16 Xfinity races in 2016. He can drive in 10 in 2017. (Getty)
    Kyle Busch has driven in 16 Xfinity races in 2016. He can drive in 10 in 2017. (Getty)

    Welcome to Happy Hour. As always, you can tweet or email us your NASCAR thoughts 24/7 at the links below.

    The topic of this week’s mailbag was pretty clear once NASCAR made its announcement Wednesday about limiting Sprint Cup veterans from the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Few things get fans more riled up than Cup drivers in lower series.

    But it is funny that the Cup Series is entering its final four races of the season and the third round of the Chase and the racing isn’t the dominant topic of the week heading to Martinsville. After the laser inspection hullabaloo at Chicago, numerous people were wishing that the racing would become the dominant topic as the Chase moved along.

    Welp, here we are with a rule change that could have easily been announced in December. Let’s get to your comments.

    ——

    Ridiculous rule. No need for it. Just more confusion for fans. The complainers are at home on the

    Read More »from Happy Hour: Your reaction to NASCAR's lower series rule
  • Kasey Kahne is currently 17th in the points standings. (Getty)
    Kasey Kahne is currently 17th in the points standings. (Getty)

    Kasey Kahne’s most identifiable Hendrick Motorsports sponsor is leaving after the expiration of its current deal.

    Farmers Insurance told Sports Business Journal that the company wouldn’t be renewing its agreement with the No. 5 team after the 2017 season. Farmers joined Hendrick Motorsports when the team signed Kahne before the 2011 season.

    A spokesperson for the company told SBJ that it had “made a strategic decision to focus on other brand activities.” Farmers initially had sponsored about two-thirds of Kahne’s races with Hendrick Motorsports and is slated to be a primary sponsor for 12 races each in 2016 and 2017.

    Farmers’ departure leaves Hendrick Motorsports with one insurance sponsor. Nationwide Insurance signed on before the 2015 season to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr. after it it didn’t renew its title sponsorship of what’s now the Xfinity Series.

    Kahne has missed the Chase in each of his last two seasons. He qualified

    Read More »from Farmers Insurance leaving Kasey Kahne's No. 5 team after 2017
  • We're proposing that a driver must make 30 Xfinity and Truck Series starts before racing in Cup. (Getty)
    We’re proposing that a driver must make 30 Xfinity and Truck Series starts before racing in Cup. (Getty)

    Early Wednesday, NASCAR announced a rule limiting the number of races Sprint Cup Series veterans can run in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Now that the rule is official, the series should take a hard look at creating another one centered around experience. Namely, one establishing a higher baseline experience minimum to compete in the Cup Series.

    18-year-old Gray Gaulding is attempting to make his Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend at Martinsville. Gaulding has raced twice in the Xfinity Series and has made 13 starts in the Camping World Truck Series. He’s recorded one top five finish.

    Nothing about Gaulding’s resume says he’s ready for the Sprint Cup Series. But since he meets the age minimum, has a sponsor and has a NASCAR license, he has the opportunity to hop in the No. 30 car in the hopes of making his Cup debut.

    He’s not the first driver with minimal experience

    Read More »from After limiting Cup drivers in lower series, it's time to raise the bar for Cup Series participation
  • Kyle Busch will only be able to make 10 Xfinity Series starts in 2017. (Getty)
    Kyle Busch will only be able to make 10 Xfinity Series starts in 2017. (Getty)

    A rule limiting Sprint Cup drivers in NASCAR’s No. 2 and No. 3 series is official.

    NASCAR said Wednesday that Cup drivers with five years full-time experience in the series will be limited to 10 Xfinity races and seven Camping World Truck Series races a season starting in 2017. Cup drivers are also barred from competing in the Chase races in each series.

    It’s a compromise that allows sponsors the opportunity to sponsor Cup drivers at a discount in the Xfinity and Truck Series while also turning the championship focus to the drivers who compete in the series full time.

    When NASCAR instituted eight-race Chase formats in the Xfinity and Truck Series before the 2016 season, it said Cup drivers were barred from competing in the winner-take-all finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That ban is still in place.

    Cup drivers are also now prevented from competing in the four Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash races. Those races

    Read More »from Experienced Cup drivers limited to 17 Xfinity and Truck Series races a year starting in 2017
  • Kevin Harvick trails Joey Logano in this picture, but he leads him in Power Rankings. (Getty)
    Kevin Harvick trails Joey Logano in this picture, but he leads him in Power Rankings. (Getty)

    Welcome to Power Rankings. As always, Power Rankings are far from a scientific formula. In fact, it’s the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. Direct all your complaints to us at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com and we’ll try to have some fun.

    1. Kevin Harvick (LW: 1): Harvick stays at No. 1 this week because of his incredibly smart decision to get off the gas when Denny Hamlin sliced in front of him in the tri-oval on the final lap. Harvick had every right to keep his foot on the gas pedal and potentially send Hamlin spinning off his bumper. But that decision could’ve had catastrophic consequences in the form of a massive wreck.

    And it would have been the second-straight time a Talladega Chase race ended with a crash off Harvick’s bumper. Thankfully we’re not going through that again. But his apparent punch of Kurt Busch after the race is weird. And if it was really a

    Read More »from Power Rankings: Harvick's on-track pragmatism keeps him at No. 1
  • Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch finished 28th-30th. (Getty)
    Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch finished 28th-30th. (Getty)

    Advocating for a penalty for the three Joe Gibbs Racing cars at Talladega? Stop. It’s baseless and a waste of your time.

    NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell said Monday there would be no penalties for Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. The three teammates finished 28th-30th on Sunday and advanced to the third round of the Chase by doing so. There was no need for the three to try to finish in the top 15 after engine failures to the cars of Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. earlier in the race.

    From NBC Sports:

    “I’d say they do not fall into (the 100% rule),” O’Donnell said Monday during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Satellite Radio’s The Morning Drive. “The spirit of that rule is really to prevent somebody from intentionally allowing anther teammate to do something that would not be in the spirit of the rules of the race.

    “In this case, we look at that as a strategy decision that the team made.

    Read More »from No, there's not going to be a penalty for those who laid back at Talladega
  • Both Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got eliminated on Sunday. (Getty)
    Both Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got eliminated on Sunday. (Getty)

    • Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for the Sprint Cup Series lead in wins. Each has four victories in 2016. Yet Keselowski and Truex aren’t among the eight drivers advancing to the third round of the Chase after their misfortune at Talladega.

    Both Keselowski and Truex had engine failures Sunday. Truex’s came first. Then Keselowski’s happened after he had previously had trash on the grille of his car.

    In a NASCAR that likes to tout the importance of winning, their absence from the final rounds of the Chase may seem glaring. Especially since it’s the first time in the three years of the current Chase format that a driver at least tied for the most wins in the series through 32 races has missed out on the Chase’s final two rounds.

    But that’s what happens in this Chase format. With three races in a round, one bad finish can ruin your championship if you don’t get a win in the

    Read More »from Quick takeaways from Talladega: 2 of 2016's winningest drivers now absent from the Chase
  • Maybe Talladega was the “lay up” race of the third round?

    Joe Gibbs Racing’s four cars represent half of the eight drivers advancing to the third round of the Chase. And three of those JGR drivers played a survive and advance strategy to perfection Sunday.

    Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth entered Sunday’s race with hefty points advantages over ninth place. Kenseth was up 29 points on ninth, Busch 27 and Edwards 24. With one point being awarded per position, each of the three knew that it would take a big points swing to get knocked out of the Chase.

    The easiest way to be a part of a big points swing at Talladega? Get involved in a crash. So the three teammates ran behind the main pack of cars for the entirety of the day. Kenseth finished 28th, Edwards was 29th and Busch was 30th.

    The strategy to run at the back for most of the race at Talladega isn’t uncommon. Every race features at least a handful of drivers content to ride in the back

    Read More »from Joe Gibbs Racing shows why being conservative works in the Chase
  • TALLADEGA, Ala.—Teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are moving on together to the next round of the Chase. But all is not harmonious in the Stewart-Haas camp.

    Shortly after the end of the race, Busch hit Harvick in the side during the cooldown lap; it appeared to be a continuation of the paint-trading that happened in the final laps of the race. Harvick was angry enough that he stormed over to Busch’s car on pit road and punched at something—helmet, post, whatever—hard enough to rock the entire car on its chassis.

    Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have words.
    Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have words.

    “He cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag,” Harvick said. “I don’t really understand that.” Asked if Busch had offered up any kind of explanation, Harvick replied, “Not really.”

    Busch struck a tone that was a touch more inclusive, but no less pointed. “He has a misunderstanding of the call of the end of the race,” Busch said. “We’re great teammates. We’re doing good together.

    Read More »from Harvick has words, jab for Kurt Busch after Talladega
  • Joey Logano is currently 8th in the points standings. (Getty)
    Joey Logano wins at Talladega to advance to the next round of the Chase. (Getty)

    TALLADEGA, Ala.—There are three ways to race at Talladega:

    -Run in the front.
    -Run in the pack.
    -Run far behind the pack.

    No matter which option you pick, one of the other two was probably a better choice.

    Joey Logano won the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega, punching a guaranteed ticket through to the next round of the Chase. Drivers whose Chase hopes ended on Sunday included Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, and Austin Dillon.

    Sunday’s race demonstrated just how tricky restrictor-plate racing can be, particularly when such a valuable prize as advancement is at stake. Keselowski and Truex lost out on their bids to advance when their engines failed them. Elliott wasn’t able to work his way through the pack, and Dillon lost out on a tiebreaker with Hamlin.

    The tiebreaker goes to the driver with the best finish in a round. Hamlin finished third Sunday, higher

    Read More »from Joey Logano wins Talladega; Truex, Keselowski, Elliott, Dillon eliminated
  • TALLADEGA, Ala.—After a day in which he’d thoroughly dominated both the field and the track, a day that ended with a championship-killing engine failure, Brad Keselowski spoke for exactly 49 seconds. That was probably 48 seconds more than he needed; you could sum up Keselowski’s frustration with one single FCC-forbidden curse.

    Keselowski didn’t need a win to advance to the next round of the Chase, but he needed an exceptionally strong afternoon. And that’s exactly what he put together, using both strategy and physics to lead a race-high 90 laps. But on lap 144, Keselowski’s engine suddenly gave out, and he lurched from second place down to the apron before heading straight to the garage. The failure means Keselowski will not have enough points to advance to the next round of the Chase.

    “Just wasn’t meant to be,” Keselowski said moments after climbing from the smoking car. “That’s the way it goes.” After a few minutes, he appeared on NBC, holding

    Read More »from Engine woes doom Brad Keselowski's 2016 championship hopes
  • TALLADEGA, Ala.—Martin Truex Jr. began his year with a bitter loss in the Daytona 500, coming up just six inches short of a trip to victory lane. He’ll end this year with an even more painful thud, a championship-caliber season falling victim to a blown engine at Talladega.

    This was supposed to be Truex’s year, a season in which everything came together for the Jersey driver and Denver race team. Truex won four races, including the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500, and two of the first three races in the first round of the Chase. But in the Chase, you’re only as good as the current three-race segment, and Truex’s earlier victories meant nothing in the round of 12. Truex entered the race 13 points ahead of the cutoff line, not nearly enough to feel comfortable.

    Early on in the race, Truex, the pole winner, challenged Brad Keselowski for the race lead, even notching a couple laps led. But by lap 41, Truex’s engine let go, and he had no choice but to

    Read More »from Martin Truex Jr.'s championship season evaporates with engine trouble
  • Martin Truex Jr. has started first four times this season. (Getty)
    Martin Truex Jr. has started first four times this season. (Getty)

    Martin Truex Jr. will lead the field to green Sunday at Talladega.

    Truex posted the fastest lap in the second round of qualifying on Saturday to win the pole for the fourth time in 2016. The performance came after a little drama before qualifying even began. Parts were confiscated from the No. 78 Toyota in pre-qualifying inspection.

    Crew chief Cole Pearn said the problem was because of a misinstalled bolt on the left front of the car. Sunday’s race is an impound race, meaning teams aren’t allowed to make changes from qualifying to the race.

    From NBC:

    “It was just a stupid mistake,” Pearn said after Truex won the pole for Sunday’s race. “Obviously, you’re not trying to lower the center of gravity on just the left front corner of one part of

    Read More »from Martin Truex Jr. to start first at Talladega
  • Joey Logano is currently 8th in the points standings. (Getty)
    Joey Logano is currently 8th in the points standings. (Getty)

    Joey Logano can advance to the third round of the Chase as long as he finishes ahead of Austin Dillon and maintains his point advantages on Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.

    But he’s not looking at Sunday’s Talladega race as an event where he will pay more attention to defending against those four drivers than he is about winning the race himself and automatically advancing to the third round.

    “I don’t really think about how people are trying to knock me out, I think about how I’m gonna knock other people out,” Logano said Friday. “That’s my attitude.  If I’m on defense, we’re not gonna win. We better stay on offense … We’re gonna go out there and race hard because that’s what we know how to do when we come to speedways.  Some guys can do it good the other way but, for us, we’re gonna go out there and race hard and try to stay up front, try to keep making our car better for the end of the race and be there at

    Read More »from Joey Logano: 'If I'm on defense, we're not going to win'