From The Marbles

  • Austin Dillon won the pole earlier this year at California. (Getty)
    Austin Dillon won the pole earlier this year at California. (Getty)

    Austin Dillon has his second pole of the season.

    The driver of the No. 3 posted the fastest time in the third round of Friday’s qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway and will start ahead of Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.

    Dillon won the pole earlier this season at California. That was his second career pole — his first came at the 2014 Daytona 500. He was eliminated from the Chase in the second round on a tiebreaker by Denny Hamlin.

    Here’s how the lineup looks for Sunday’s race. Five Chase drivers will start in the top 12. Kyle Busch didn’t post a time in the second round of qualifying as his backup car sprung a water leak. Busch went to the backup car because he smashed the wall with his primary car on his warmup lap in practice.

    1. Austin Dillon
    2. Joey Logano (Chase)
    3. Kevin Harvick (Chase)
    4. Brad Keselowski
    5. Kyle Larson
    6. Paul Menard
    7. Matt Kenseth (Chase)
    8. Ryan Blaney
    9. Carl Edwards (Chase)
    10. Kurt Busch

    Read More »from Austin Dillon wins pole at Texas
  • Carl Edwards finished 36th at Martinsville. (Getty)
    Carl Edwards finished 36th at Martinsville. (Getty)

    FORT WORTH, Texas — Carl Edwards needs a win to advance to the final round of the Chase.

    Well, Edwards can get into the final round if he doesn’t get a win. But he’s going to need some wild things to happen at Texas and Phoenix over the next two weeks. Edwards was the only Chaser who finished below 22nd at Martinsville and is already 32 points outside fourth in the Chase standings.

    So yeah, that win thing seems important. And Edwards is confident about his chances for one over the next two weeks. He finished second at Phoenix and seventh at Texas in the spring.

    “As soon as we had the tire trouble at Martinsville the first thing I thought of was how fortunate we are to be going to Phoenix and Texas,” Edwards said. “I feel like we had an opportunity to win both of those races and we had speed at both of the tracks and obviously we could’ve won both of them if things had gone a little differently”

    Edwards led 124 laps at Texas after

    Read More »from Spring success gives Edwards confidence he could win to advance to Chase's final round
  • Michael Annett is 36th in the points standings. (Getty)
    Michael Annett is 36th in the Cup Series points standings. (Getty)

    Michael Annett is moving from the Sprint Cup Series to the Xfinity Series in 2017.

    Annett, who drives the No. 46 for HScott Motorsports in the Cup Series, will drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports next season. He’ll pilot — no pun intended — the No. 5 car for JRM.

    “I’m excited for this opportunity with JR Motorsports,” said Annett. “Dale Jr. and [sister Kelley Earnhardt] have done a great job building this organization.  They have put the right people in place and have a championship to their name. I look forward to joining them and competing for wins and a championship next season in the Xfinity Series.”

    We make the pun joke because Annett is sponsored by Pilot Flying J. He’s had the sponsorship since he started driving full-time in NASCAR in 2009.

    After five full-time seasons in the Xfinity Series, Annett moved to the Cup Series in 2014 with Tommy Baldwin Racing and joined HScott in 2015. He’s been a

    Read More »from Michael Annett to drive for JR Motorsports in Xfinity Series in 2017
  • Matt Tifft was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June. (Getty)
    Matt Tifft was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June and had surgery to remove it. (Getty)

    Matt Tifft will compete in a full Xfinity Series season in 2017.

    Tifft, 20, has driven a partial schedule for the team the past two seasons and will step up to full-time as Erik Jones makes the move to the Sprint Cup Series.

    “It has been an incredible year and I am honored to have the opportunity to continue working with Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2017 season,” Tifft said in a team statement. “I’ve always wanted the chance to contend for a championship with the Chase for the Championship program, I am thrilled to be with JGR and know they will be instrumental in my career. Through my health challenges this year and while I have continued to learn and improve my driving skills, [team owner Joe] Gibbs, the staff, and veteran drivers here have mentored me and I look forward to the opportunity to be around them now for a full season.”

    Tifft missed races in 2016 after he was diagnosed with a benign brain

    Read More »from Matt Tifft to drive full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in Xfinity in 2017
  • Trevor Bayne is 22nd in the points standings. (Getty)
    Trevor Bayne is 22nd in the points standings. (Getty)

    Trevor Bayne and Roush Fenway Racing will be together through the 2019. Along with Advocare, Bayne’s current sponsor.

    The team announced a three-year extension for both driver and sponsor Wednesday. Bayne has been with Roush Fenway Racing since he joined the team with seven races to go in the 2010 Xfinity Series season.

    AdvoCare will continue to serve as the team’s “anchor sponsor.” The company is one of the few in NASCAR who still has a full season sponsorship. Since Bayne moved to the Cup Series full-time in 2015, AdvoCare has sponsored him in every race.

    The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has made a big jump in the points from 2015 to 2016. After finishing 29th in points last season, Bayne is 22nd with three races to go in 2016. He even got his first two top-five finishes since that Daytona 500 this season.

    Bayne is one point back of teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the points standings and nearly 100 points ahead of Greg Biffle, whose

    Read More »from Trevor Bayne signs 3-year contract extension with Roush Fenway Racing
  • Paul Menard is 25th in the points standings. (Getty)
    Paul Menard is 25th in the points standings. (Getty)

    Matt Borland is returning to the Sprint Cup Series as a crew chief.

    Richard Childress Racing said Borland would take over as Paul Menard’s crew chief in 2017. Menard began the season with Justin Alexander as a crew chief, though he was replaced in July by Danny Stockman on an interim basis.

    “Matt’s experience as an engineer in both NASCAR and Formula 1 will be critically important to the growth of RCR’s Sprint Cup Series program,” team owner Richard Childress said in a statement. “He has an impressive background and will be a great resource to our racing operations.

    The team said Stockman was returning to a yet-to-be-announced role in the Xfinity Series.

    Borland has been with Stewart-Haas Racing since Tony Stewart assumed part ownership of the team in 2009. He served as Ryan Newman’s crew chief for three races in 2012 and then the complete 2013 season, Newman’s last at Stewart-Haas. Borland has most recently been working with co-owner

    Read More »from Matt Borland moving from Stewart-Haas to crew chief for Paul Menard in 2017
  • Reed Sorenson's No. 55 for Texas. (Via Premium Motorsports' Facebook page)
    Reed Sorenson’s No. 55 for Texas. (Via Premium Motorsports’ Facebook page)

    Premium Motorsports is getting political at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

    The team, which fields backmarker cars in the Sprint Cup Series, will support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign on Reed Sorenson’s No. 55. Premium posted images of the car to its Facebook page Wednesday.

    We’ve reached out to Premium asking if the team is self-funding the wrap for the car and if it had been in contact with Trump’s campaign.

    It’s not the first time a team in NASCAR has supported Trump’s candidacy, though it’s the first time the support has been shown in the Cup Series. Two weeks ago at Talladega, a Camping World Truck Series team ran a Trump/Pence paint scheme.

    The paint scheme for the car, which has been largely unsponsored in 2016, will be very well received at Texas over the weekend. Earlier this year, the track hosted the Duck Commander 500. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson gave the prayer before the race and prayed for

    Read More »from Reed Sorenson's car will support Donald Trump at Texas
  • AJ Allmendinger is 19th in the points standings and has three-straight top-10 finishes. (Getty)
    AJ Allmendinger is 19th in the points standings and has three-straight top-10 finishes. (Getty)

    Could JTG-Daugherty Racing be expanding for 2017? It certainly sounds like the team is seriously considering it.

    Co-owner Tad Geschickter said the team would have to make a decision soon if it wanted to add a teammate for AJ Allmendinger next season.

    That’s a big decision,” Geschickter said Tuesday on Sirius XM Speedway (via NBC Sports). “Certainly we’re weighing out all the options right now. It’s no secret that we have to figure out are there are charters available and their cost, are there drivers available, what do they cost and certainly we ultimately have to report back to the sponsors and pull the trigger. Luckily with a company the size of Richard Childress Racing helping us, there’s the opportunity to get the cars ready.”

    JTG-Daugherty has a technical alliance with RCR and would need to get additional inventory from the company if it wanted to expand. In addition to its three core

    Read More »from JTG-Daugherty open to adding additional car for 2017
  • No. 1 is a no-brainer this week. (Getty)
    No. 1 is a no-brainer this week. (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. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 3): Welcome to the final round of the Chase, Jimmie Johnson. Six-time enters Sunday’s race at Texas with four-straight wins at the track. The last two have come when there’s been no pressure on Johnson to perform because he’s already been eliminated from the Chase.

    It’s still a minimal pressure situation on Sunday, but in a very good way. Until someone beats Johnson at Texas, it’s hard to see anyone but him being the favorite. Not only would a Johnson win on Sunday put his streak at five, but it would also extend Hendrick Motorsports’ equipment streak in the third round of the Chase. Hendrick-equipped cars have won all seven third-round races since the current

    Read More »from Power Rankings: Jimmie Johnson gets a win and retakes the top spot
  • A track spokesperson said 10 people were struck by a black convertible. (Getty)
    A track spokesperson said multiple people were struck by a black convertible. (Getty)

    UPDATED Monday, 3 p.m. ET:

    An unidentified man accused of hitting over 20 pedestrians in a parking lot outside Martinsville Speedway has been charged with reckless driving according to Virginia State Police

    Police are still investigating the incident and more charges could be forthcoming upon the investigation’s conclusion. Per ESPN, all but two of the 17 people taken to hospitals Sunday had been released.

    ——-

    Numerous people were struck by a vehicle in a Martinsville Speedway parking lot following Sunday’s Sprint Cup race won by Jimmie Johnson.

    Per NBC, 22 people were hit while a track spokesperson said none appeared to have life-threatening injuries. A witness told USA Today the car was lined up to leave the parking lot and pulled out of line.

    Witness Roger Wolfe of Morgantown, W.Va., told USA TODAY Sports a driver in a black convertible was lined up in traffic waiting to exit the speedway. The

    Read More »from Man accused of striking pedestrians in Martinsville lot charged with reckless driving (Updated)
  • Jeff Gordon made his 805th career start on Sunday. (Getty)
    Jeff Gordon made his 805th career start on Sunday. (Getty)

    Jeff Gordon got his best finish of 2016 in his last race of 2016. And likely his career.

    Gordon finished sixth Sunday at Martinsville in his final substitute appearance for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon has driven eight races for Junior in 2016 as Junior continues to rehab from a concussion sustained over the summer.

    Gordon, 45, said he felt he could have finished a bit higher too.

    “Well I would rather have won,” Gordon said. “I felt like we had a fourth or fifth place car the run before that so I always wanted to get the most out of it. I was a little disappointed it didn’t take off there at the last yellow, but very proud of this team, proud of my performance. Best finish I’ve had in this car.”

    The four-time champion was called out of retirement at Indianapolis to drive for Junior, who was sidelined indefinitely at the time. As Earnhardt’s absence stretched on, Gordon continued to drive the No. 88 on a part-time basis with Alex

    Read More »from Jeff Gordon finishes a season-best 6th in what's likely the final race of his Cup career
  • 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