From The Marbles

  • Those lug nuts should be fastened onto the wheel hubs when the wheels are put on the car (Getty).
    Teams are now allowed to have two lug nuts missing after a race without a penalty (Getty).

    With the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup beginning on Sunday, NASCAR tweaked the rules regarding lug nut installation and the consequences for teams who fail post-race laser inspection.

    After Tony Stewart was fined for his statements regarding NASCAR’s lack of enforcement regarding lug nuts in April, the sanctioning body instituted a rule mandating that teams have all 20 lug nuts (five per tire) installed securely at the end of the race. If a team was found to have been missing a lug nut or two, the crew chief was suspended for the next race.

    The penalty for a lug nut infraction is now more severe. But so is the barometer for the infraction. A team will have to be missing three lug nuts off the wheels of its car to now get a penalty. If a driver’s car has 17 or fewer lug nuts, he will lose 35 points and the services of his crew chief for three races. The crew chief will also be fined $65,000.

    Read More »from NASCAR modifies lug nut and laser inspection penalties for Chase
  • Almirola made the Chase in 2014 and is 27th this season (Getty).
    Almirola made the Chase in 2014 and is 27th this season (Getty).

    Richard Petty Motorsports is giving Aric Almirola a new crew chief for the Chase. The team said Tuesday that Drew Blickensderfer would serve as Almirola’s crew chief for the final 10 races of the season and replace Trent Owens.

    “We’ve made significant investments in both teams, and the results for the No. 43 team have not been what we expected, team CEO Brian Moffitt said in a statement. “By making this change now, we hope that Drew (Blickensderfer) can begin momentum to improving on-track performance and get the team in a good place for the 2017 season. Trent Owens has been a valued member of our organization and will continue to play a significant role with Richard Petty Motorsports.”

    As you can guess by Moffitt’s comments, the No. 43 team is not a part of the 16-driver playoff field this season. And really was never a contender. Almirola is 27th in the points standings and hasn’t finished in the top 10 in any race this

    Read More »from Aric Almirola to have new crew chief for final 10 races of 2016
  • Denny Hamlin leads the field at Richmond and in Power Rankings (Getty).
    Denny Hamlin leads the field at Richmond and 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. Denny Hamlin (LW: 3): Come on Denny, that was a weak performance Saturday night. Only leading 189 laps from the pole on the way to the win? Should have done better than that.

    Hopefully you sense the sarcasm there. Last time Hamlin started first at Richmond he led 381 laps. But he didn’t win the race because of a tire problem. Going out on a huge limb here, but we’re assuming Hamlin would take Saturday’s performance over that domination-turned-heartbreak.

    We noted it Monday in our breakdown of all 16 Chase drivers, but Hamlin’s currently the hottest driver in NASCAR. He’s got 11-straight top-10 finishes and drives for the fastest team on the circuit.

    Read More »from Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin heads into the Chase at No. 1
  • Welcome to the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Who is going to be the last driver to say he won a Sprint Cup Trophy before the title sponsor departs at the end of the season? Your guess is probably as good as ours, though we’re going to make an attempt at predicting how the Chase will go at the bottom of this post.

    The 2016 Chase field (Getty Images)
    The 2016 Chase field (Getty Images)

    The four-round elimination format, now in its third season, is almost impossible to predict because of the randomness it creates. While a driver was able to recover from one or two bad finishes over the course of the Chase from 2004-2013, a win is about the only thing that can repair the damage of a poor race in a round.

    Remember, the four lowest-scoring drivers in the first three-race rounds are eliminated, leaving four drivers to race heads up for the championship at Homestead. A race win in a round means automatic advancement to the next round.

    So yes, winning is key. But so is the ability to avoid a disastrous finish. 2015 champion Kyle

    Read More »from What you need to know about all 16 Chase drivers
  • Denny Hamlin will start No. 1 at Richmond for the first time since 2010 (Getty Images).
    Denny Hamlin. (Getty Images).

    RICHMOND—It wasn’t pretty, but for Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, the Federated Auto Parts 400 will rank as one of the loveliest races of their lives.

    None of them won the caution-filled tire skrag that was the Saturday night Richmond race—that honor went to Denny Hamlin—but all three of them will make their very first Chase for the Sprint Cup, sweating out a 400-lap race that was, by turns, infuriating and exhilarating.

    Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin cemented their status as two favorites for the Chase, dueling right on through overtime. Hamlin

    The Chase scenarios coming into the race broke down this way:

    -Chris Buescher, the first driver ever to be in danger of missing the Chase for slipping out of the top 30, held an 11-point lead over David Ragan for 30th place, meaning his easiest route to a Chase spot was finishing 11 points ahead of Ragan.

    -Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon sat 18 and 9 points ahead of Jamie McMurray in the 16th

    Read More »from Denny Hamlin wins at Richmond as Chase field is set
  • RICHMOND–A routine, caution-filled night at Richmond abruptly turned bitter and cringeworthy as former teammates tangled.

    With only 37 laps remaining in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman collided several times heading into the backstretch at Richmond International Raceway. Stewart appeared to cut down into Newman, setting off a chain reaction that destroyed Newman’s car and fading Chase hopes.

    Newman climbed from his car, working his way around the #83 of Dylan Lupton that had come to rest on his hood, and soon afterward unloaded on Stewart with a venom rarely seen in pro sports.

    Asked about the wreck, Newman responded, “I guess he thought he was in a sprint car, he couldn’t control his anger,” a clear reference to the August 2014 incident in which Stewart ran over Kevin Ward Jr. at a sprint car race in upstate New York. Ward died of his injuries, but Stewart was cleared of all charges in the incident.

    But

    Read More »from Ryan Newman absolutely unloads on Tony Stewart after wreck
  • Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt talk strategy prior to a Gordon run in the 88. (Getty Images)

    RICHMOND–Two months ago, Jeff Gordon was dining with friends in Paris, and talk turned to racing. The future Hall of Famer had just wrapped a well-received rookie season as a Fox Sports commentator. Racing, for Gordon, was eight months in the past and a lifetime ago.

    “So you’re never going to get back in a car?” asked the son of one of Gordon’s friends.

    “Don’t think so,” Gordon said. He’d been enjoying time away from the track, playing with his kids in New York and jetting to France with his wife. Life after the track was very, very good.

    “What if,” the son continued, “one of your teammates at Hendrick had an issue and you had to fill in? Would you?”

    Gordon pondered the question for a moment and finally nodded. “I guess I would.”

    The very next day, he got a call from Rick Hendrick.

    ***

    Gordon’s summertime stint subbing for the concussion-stricken Dale Earnhardt Jr. began with so much hope and

    Read More »from Jeff Gordon soldiers on through frustrating Earnhardt replacement run
  • Denny Hamlin will start No. 1 at Richmond for the first time since 2010 (Getty Images).
    Denny Hamlin will start No. 1 at Richmond for the first time since 2010 (Getty Images).

    Denny Hamlin will start first at Richmond.

    The Richmond-area native’s fast lap in the third round survived two challenges by Kyle Larson over the final seconds of the last round.

    The pole continues an incredible streak for Hamlin. He’s made the final round of qualifying for every race in 2016 and has started in the top 10 in every race since the third race of the season. His starting spot for the first two races were 11th (Daytona) and 12th (Atlanta). Not bad at all.

    It’s Hamlin’s third pole at Richmond but his first at the track since the spring 2008. That’s the race Hamlin led 381 laps in but didn’t win. He finished 24th thanks to a tire problem.

    Hamlin last won at Richmond in the fall of 2010.

    Here’s how the field will line up for the race. Since 41 cars attempted the race, Cole Whitt is the driver that misses out in competing Saturday night as he was the lone driver that failed to qualify.

    1.

    Read More »from Denny Hamlin wins pole for Richmond
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the first NASCAR driver to appear on GameDay (Getty).
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the first NASCAR driver to appear on GameDay (Getty).

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is making a trip to Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday.

    Earnhardt Jr. will serve as the celebrity guest picker for ESPN’s College GameDay. The weekly traveling college football pre-game show will originate from the Battle at Bristol between Virginia Tech and Tennessee. The track, located between the campuses of the two schools, is hosting its first football game.

    The appearance will be courtesy of Goodyear. Junior is out for the rest of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season because of a concussion he suffered over the summer. The Cup Series races Saturday evening at Richmond, so it likely wouldn’t have been logistically possible for Junior to appear on the show if he was racing Saturday night.

    “The Battle at Bristol is something we’ve been anticipating for a long time, and I’m fortunate to be invited by Goodyear to participate in ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast,” Junior said in a statement. “I’m

    Read More »from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to serve as guest picker for College GameDay
  • The Chase field will likely have four or five new faces in 2016 (Getty).
    The Chase field will likely have four or five new faces in 2016 (Getty).

    It’s time for Happy Hour. As always, tweet us your thoughts or shoot us an email at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com if you want to participate.

    Should we blame Ryan Newman and his team for sucking all the tension about setting the 16-driver field for the Chase during Saturday night’s race at Richmond?

    That’s a strongly-worded and slightly-hyperbolic statement. But the underlying point still stands. Immediately after Sunday’s race at Darlington, Newman was trailing Jamie McMurray by seven points for the final spot in the 10-race Chase that begins next weekend at Chicago.

    Seven points is just six positions when bonus points are taken away, so a gap of that nature was undoubtedly going to lead to some serious scoreboard watching throughout the course of the race.

    But, as you know if you haven’t been living in a NASCAR-free hole this week, Newman and team were penalized 15 points for a post-race inspection failure. The

    Read More »from Happy Hour: Is the Richmond Chase drama gone?
  • Custer comes in for the form tackle (FS1).
    Custer comes in for the form tackle (FS1).

    While Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman each got points penalties for their cars failing post-race inspection after the Sprint Cup Series’ Southern 500 on Sunday night, two Truck Series drivers who tangled during that afternoon’s race weren’t officially sanctioned by NASCAR.

    Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek made contact while racing for the win on the last lap at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. After bumping Custer, Nemechek drove him off the track and the two careened off the wall and through the grass towards the finish line.

    Nemechek was declared the winner because his truck crossed the finish line first. As he was waiting for the checkered flag as NASCAR was reviewing the race results, Custer sprinted at Nemechek and tackled him.

    Read More »from Truck Series drivers Custer and Nemechek not penalized for on and off-track contact
  • Ryan Newman is probably not smiling after his penalty (Getty).
    Ryan Newman is probably not smiling after his penalty (Getty).

    Ryan Newman’s path to the 2016 Chase is much more difficult than it was immediately after Sunday night’s race at Darlington.

    Newman’s car failed post-race laser inspection following his ninth-place finish. NASCAR said Wednesday that Newman and his team would be docked 15 points for the infraction. Newman left Darlington provisionally trailing Jamie McMurray by seven points for the final spot in the Chase via points. That deficit to McMurray is now 22 points after the penalty before the Chase field is set after Saturday night’s race at Richmond.

    Remember, each position is worth a point under NASCAR’s point system. Drivers get a three-point bonus for winning a race, a point for leading a lap and another point for leading the most laps in a given race.

    Thirteen drivers have won races in 2016, leaving three spots in the Chase open on points at Richmond provided a driver already with a win takes the checkered flag Saturday night.

    Read More »from Ryan Newman's deficit to Jamie McMurray now 22 points after penalty
  • Kevin Harvick still leads the pack (Getty).
    Kevin Harvick still leads the pack (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 dominated Sunday’s race and was understandably unhappy with the way the team struggled on pit road. The lost track position from those struggles cost Harvick the win, as he couldn’t chase down Martin Truex Jr. at the end of the race.

    Should Harvick have called out his pit crew the way he did? Well, better now than in a Chase elimination race when a poor pit crew performance can smash a driver’s championship hopes. Verbal lashings don’t have much practical application themselves, but they can certainly help spur improvement. Harvick was certainly looking for that improvement before the Chase begins in less than two weeks.

    Martin Truex Jr. celebrates at Darlington (Getty).
    Martin Truex Jr. celebrates
    Read More »from Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick loses the race but keeps the top spot here
  • McMurray leads Newman, both here at Phoenix and in the points standings (Getty).
    McMurray leads Newman, both here at Phoenix and in the points standings (Getty).

    Be prepared to watch a lot of comparisons between Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman at Richmond on Saturday night.

    With one race to go before the 2016 Chase starts, McMurray currently occupies the last spot in the Chase field via points. Newman is the first driver out of the Chase and seven points behind McMurray. 13 drivers have wins, so the top three drivers from this table will make it to the Chase assuming a winless driver doesn’t go to victory lane at Richmond.

    [Related: Martin Truex Jr. wins Southern 500]

    10. Chase Elliott, 659 points
    12. Austin Dillon, 651
    13. Jamie McMurray, 642
    14. Ryan Newman, 635
    16. Kasey Kahne, 598

    (No. 11 Jimmie Johnson and No. 15 Kyle Larson both have wins)

    Those point tallies may change before Richmond, however. Both Newman and Larson failed post-race laser inspection Sunday night. We’ve seen points penalties anywhere from 10 (Brad Keselowski after Michigan) to 15 (Matt Kenseth

    Read More »from Chase Watch: Barring Richmond craziness, it's down to McMurray vs. Newman
  • Tony Stewart had a run-in with Brian Scott (Getty Images).
    Tony Stewart had a run-in with Brian Scott (Getty Images).

    Throughout 2016 we may have way too many quick thoughts for our post-race posts. So consider our Takeaways feature to be the home of our random and sometimes intelligent musings. Sometimes the post may have a theme. Sometimes it may just be a mess of unrelated thoughts. Make sure you tweet us your thoughts after the race or email your post-race rants via the link in the signature line below.

    • Is there a challenger to John Hunter Nemechek’s slam of Cole Custer for most egregious wreck of the week in NASCAR?

    If you missed Nemechek’s “pass” of Custer for the win in Sunday’s Truck Series race at MoSport, here it is. Nemechek contended after the race that he didn’t wreck Custer and that “Rubbing is racing.”

    Let’s flash to Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington. Tony Stewart, who had a borderline top-10

    Read More »from Quick takeaways from Darlington: Who was more blatant, Nemechek or Stewart?
  • Martin Truex Jr. led 28 laps Sunday night at Darlington (Getty Images).
    Martin Truex Jr. led 28 laps Sunday night at Darlington (Getty Images).

    Kevin Harvick and his scraped up car was no match for Martin Truex Jr. over the course of the final 20 laps at Darlington.

    Truex got past Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski on the race’s next-to-last restart and sprinted away to the lead. A caution with 18 laps to go bunched the field up one last time, but Harvick couldn’t do anything with Truex over the course of the final 12 laps of the Southern 500.

    There’s no debating that Harvick had the best car over the entire race. He led 214 of the race’s 367 laps. But there’s also no exaggerating that Harvick lost nearly 20 spots on pit road over the course of the race.

    [Related: Quick Takeaways from Darlington]

    The team’s slow pit stops, especially in the last 250 miles, put Harvick at a track position disadvantage. After one slow pit stop, Harvick’s team exchanged air guns with Danica Patrick’s team in an attempt to ensure no further problems would occur.

    “Same old thing.

    Read More »from Martin Truex Jr. wins Southern 500 at Darlington
  • Custer comes in for the form tackle (FS1).
    Custer comes in for the form tackle (FS1).

    John Hunter Nemechek ran Cole Custer off the track for the win in Sunday’s Camping World Truck Series race and Custer responded by tackling Nemechek after the drivers had exited their trucks.

    Nemechek was running second to Custer on the final lap at Candian Tire Motorsports Park and got to his bumper on the final two corners. He nudged Custer at first, but the slight contact wasn’t enough to derail the No. 00 truck enough to give Nemechek a passing opportunity. So Nemechek increased the intensity and flat ran Custer off the road.

    The finish was in question for a few minutes, apparently because the trucks weren’t picked up by the electronic timing lines on the track since they were in the grass. As Nemechek was asking for the checkered flag to celebrate the win, Custer ran after him from pit road and tackled him in

    Read More »from Cole Custer tackles John Hunter Nemechek after getting run off track for the win
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. is planning to return in 2017 (Getty Images).
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is planning to return in 2017 (Getty Images).

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. was optimistic about his concussion recovery Sunday but conceded that he had no business being in a race car in the near future.

    I think as we continued to go get evaluated we realized that it is going to be a bit more of a process … but I think it’s the right decision considering how I feel personally and physically,” Junior said. “I definitely don’t belong in a race car today by any stretch of the imagination. You don’t know how long this process is going to take and we want to be healthy and able to compete at some point, but also we don’t want to take any risks and re-injury ourselves or put ourselves in a situation where we can basically erase all the hard work that we have done to get better.”

    Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that Junior would miss the rest of the 2016 season as he recovers from a concussion suffered in a crash earlier this year. The concussion is at least the fourth Junior

    Read More »from Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he 'definitely' doesn't currently belong in a race car
  • DARLINGTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 06: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Mello Yello Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 6, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
    DARLINGTON, SC – SEPTEMBER 06: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Mello Yello Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 6, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

    It’s time for Happy Hour. As always, tweet us your thoughts or shoot us an email at happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com if you want to participate.

    Just a bit delayed this week, but with a good reason. Hurricane Hermine washed out all practice on Friday, so instead of talking about what’s happening on the track, we simply have Happy Hour on the Friday before a three-day weekend.

    It’s impossible to avoid, so you likely know that Darlington is NASCAR’s throwback weekend once again. It’s going to take a bit of adjustment to figure out everyone’s paint schemes for the weekend as most of the field is running a tribute to a team from back in the day.

    Which leads us to ask … which one of the tribute paint schemes is your

    Read More »from Happy Hour: Picking your best throwback schemes for Darlington
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. has missed seven races (Getty).
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. has missed seven races (Getty).

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2016 season is over.

    Hendrick Motorsports said Friday that Earnhardt Jr. would miss the rest of the season as he recovers from a concussion doctors believe he sustained at Michigan in June. Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman will fill in for Junior for the remainder of the year.

    “I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a team statement. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career. I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.

    “The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming. Everyone has been so encouraging and positive, from my

    Read More »from Dale Earnhardt Jr. out for rest of season because of concussion