Nothing could stop Kyle Busch this past weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he went on to capture his first win in the Brickyard 400 on Sunday.
In route to his third straight win, which marks the fourth of the season, Busch outran his former teammate Joey Logano in the final laps of the green-white-checker finish. The win ended up being his second of the weekend after capturing the victory in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race with a last lap pass.
Busch’s hopes to reach the Chase for the Sprint Cup is starting to become more of a reality. Busch missed the first eleven races of the year after being injured in a crash at the Daytona International Speedway. He goes into Pocono next weekend sitting 23 points out of the top 30 in driver standings. NASCAR’s rules state that a driver must be inside the top 30 in order to make the Chase.
While in victory lane after the race, Busch talked about finding his happy place and capturing the win at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Nothing better than being in Victory Lane,” said Busch. “Nothing better than being in Victory Lane for one of the biggest wins of my career.”
Chevrolet has gone to victory lane in the last 12 races at the 2.5-mile track in the Sprint Cup Series. That streak certainly came to an end on Sunday with Busch’s victory. He also became the first driver to sweep a weekend there.
Logano will leave the 2.5-mile track with his best finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Logano led three different times for a total of 28 laps led to finish in the runner-up spot.
It was a bitter sweet Sunday afternoon for Jeff Gordon as he would make his final appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a driver. Gordon took the green flag in the 19th starting spot. Things went bad for the driver on lap 49 as he and Bowyer made contact in turn three. This would be the result as the second of nine cautions of the day. This caused the No. 24 team to go behind the wall and make repairs to the damaged car. Gordon will leave Indianapolis with a 42nd-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson continues to show the way at the top of the Chase Grid going into next weekend’s event at the Pocono Raceway. Clint Bowyer, who had a roller coaster kind of day on Sunday, will slide right back into it via points after finishing sixth. Bowyer is currently the 16th driver in the category if the Chase began next week.
With Truex being the feel good story of the year, earning five top five and 14 top 10 finishes through 15 races and sitting second in points, the win comes with a bonus that will give him redemption after going through some tough breaks over the last few seasons.
This is not the first time that he would make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex made the exclusive club in 2013 by finishing position at the Richmond International Raceway. However, after the race had concluded, NASCAR suspected that Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the results of the race and penalized each team under the Michael Waltrip Racing banner. With the points penalty issued, this took Truex out of the Chase.
That’s not all that happened. Truex and Michael Waltrip Racing also lost NAPA as a primary sponsor that left him without a ride. He then made the switch over to the Furniture Row Racing team, which is a single car operation based out of Colorado, as a way to reset his career. He started the year strong by qualifying on the front row for the 2014 Daytona 500.
Truex found some breakthroughs throughout the season with his new team, earning five top 10 finishes in 36 races. However, that performance would not be enough as he would finish the year sitting 24th in points. Truex also had to face another tough break towards the end of the season after his girlfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"At the end of that season I felt really fortunate that there was a great ride open with the 78," said Truex in his Pocono post-race press conference. "They were just coming off their best year ever, and went into last year honestly feeling like, okay, this is going to be good. This might take a little time to get things figured out, but it's going to be good and we're going to pick up kind of where I left off, and it was just the complete opposite. It was just miserable. Nothing went our way, nothing -- we had no speed."
Truex had another fresh start at the beginning of the 2015 season. The Furniture Row Racing team changed some things within the organization by giving Truex a new crew chief. So far, those changes have been paying off very well. The 34-year old has captured one victory, five top five and 14 top 10 finishes through the first 15 races of the year. With the solid performances, Truex finds himself sitting second in points.
Truex left the Kansas Speedway as one of the dominant cars throughout the entire race. Truex led 95 laps of the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. He then backed that up two weeks later at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as he led 131 laps in the Coca-Cola 600.
Truex backed up his performance once again at the Dover International Speedway. The No. 78 ended up being one of the fastest cars all day long despite a runner-up qualifying effort. Even though he had led the most laps, Truex had fallen short of the victory once again.
While being on a hot streak for the entire season, it was destined that Truex would eventually make his way into victory lane. That win finally occurred at the Pocono Raceway – a track that he had not won at before.
Truex qualified in third on Friday and ran within the leaders once the green flag waved. He would eventually work his way towards the front to lead the 160-lap race three different times. Despite a green-white-Checker finish, Truex was able to retain the lead by holding off Kevin Harvick.
The win at Pocono Raceway finally lifted all of the personal struggles, close calls and Richmond incident in 2013. The victory celebration ended up being one of the most emotional ones that any driver has had in a long time.
"Honestly, because this team deserves to win, and I knew that," said Truex. "I've known that all year long, obviously, especially after the last couple of weeks. I felt -- I've kind of throughout my career, I've kind of got used to the disappointment, honestly, and I've learned to deal with those days where it didn't go your way, even though you didn't do anything wrong."
Truex has been on one of the most extreme roller coaster rides that any driver has faced in the history of the sport since the Richmond incident. After coming close numerous times, Truex hadn't been able to capitalize the moment.
The races at Kansas, Charlotte and Dover were major heartbreakers for Truex after falling short of the win. He has spent the last three seasons waiting to take a trip into victory lane and have a huge shot at the championship.
Not only does Truex get back into the winning spotlight, it also gives the single car operation of Furniture Row Racing back into championship contention. The last time they have scored a victory was back in 2011 at Darlington with Regan Smith behind the wheel.
"You know, I wanted to win for this team because I knew how good they were, how much they deserved it, the job they've been doing, and I've just honestly been so proud of their outlook on the way this year has gone," Truex said.
2015 seems to be the best year for Truex to make his second Chase appearance. It would also be the second time that Front Row Motorsports got into the Chase as a single car team. Their first appearance came in 2013 with Kurt Busch as the driver, making them the first single car operation to do so.
Though the team is in position to compete in the chase, Truex feels like more work needs to be done.
"There's still mountains to climb and things to conquer," he said. "We haven't won a championship. This is one race. We've got a lot of work to do yet."
Not only does Truex get redemption and a spot in the chase, it's definitely redemption in his part that no one can remove him as long as he stays inside the top 16 of the Chase Grid. This will take weight off of his shoulders as the second half of the regular season gets going next week at Sonoma.
It's the 10th race of the season, and Talladega Superspeedway might be the track that some drivers might have been waiting for.
The race at Talladega doesn't usually have any favorites. Instead, it's an open playing field where anyone can win. In past Talladega races, there have been Cinderella stories, such as David Ragan winning at the track in 2013, giving Front Row Motorsports their first win and a 1-2 result with David Gilliland.
Along with the Cinderella stories, the track has also produced some of the closest finishes in NASCAR history. Jimmie Johnson edged out Clint Bowyer for the win with a .002-second margin in 2011.
Then there have been times where a driver needed a win in order to secure their spot in the championship chase, just like Brad Keselowski in 2014. And there's been the scenario where a driver missed the chance to race at Talladega after changes to NASCAR's qualifying format -- just ask Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier.
In all of the previous races held at Talladega, only 13 races have been won from the pole, with the most recent being Jeff Gordon in 2007. The winner has usually started within the top 10 -- it's happened 64 times. Though starting within the top 10 sounds like the best chance at winning, previous winners have qualified toward the back of the pack. In eight occasions, the winner has started 21st or worse, with the worst starting spot for a winner being 36th -- also done by Gordon in 2000.
There have been times when the eventual winner has only led a lap -- the final lap. Both Gordon and Keselowski were able to lead the race when it counted the most -- Gordon in 2007 and Keselowski in 2009.
Drivers have been able to find success at Talladega, which has been the case for Keselowski, Gordon, Johnson, Ragan, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. Though they have been able to find success and some have been able to repeat success, it doesn't always guarantee a win.
Yet the driver with one of the best average finishes at Talladega hasn't even won a race in the Sprint Cup Series. Stenhouse has an average finish of 8.7, despite missing last fall's race. In his three starts at Talladega, he has gone on to finish on the lead lap.
The race at Talladega could provide a first-time winner, something that has been seen at the track before. Brian Vickers captured his first career win at the track in 2006. So did Keselowski in 2009.
Although many drivers have been able to find success at Talladega, it doesn't always mean things will go their way. Talladega, just like Daytona, has produced and continues to proceed with surprising and unexpected moments.
Redemption might be on the mind of reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott as he prepares to race in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Speedway. Elliott, who will make his second Sprint Cup Series start, will have the opportunity to have a turn around from his Cup Series debut, as it did not go as he would have liked.
Elliott had made his debut during last month's race at Martinsville -- the STP 500. Martinsville was Elliott's first start in a Cup Series event as he prepares to take over the No. 24 car in 2016 -- currently driven by Jeff Gordon, who announced his retirement from full-time racing after this season.
At Martinsville, things didn't work out in Elliott's favor as he had contact with Brett Moffitt on lap 75. After some damage to the car, Elliott went behind the wall and ended up falling 73 laps behind and finished in 38th.
Martinsville, a 0.526-mile track, was Elliott’s first Cup Series attempt, and the upcoming Richmond race will give him a similar challenge -- in the sense of both races being on short tracks.
Although Elliott is making his first Cup Series start at Richmond, he's no stranger to the track. In the XFINITY Series, he captured two second-place finishes in 2014.
With two runner positions and the Friday night race at Richmond, it will prepare Elliott for a better performance in his second cup start than his debut. Unlike Richmond, Elliott had not raced at Martinsville in the XFINITY Series, as the series does not compete there. However, he had made two Truck Series starts, where he captured a sixth place finish and a 20th place finish in 2013.
Richmond seems to be a great track for Elliott as he also made a K&N Pro Series East start in 2011, finishing in 24th and a runner-up finish in 2012.
The upcoming race at Richmond does give Elliott a chance to improve his Cup Series performance, not only from his debut but it helps prepare him for the remainder of the races he is scheduled to compete in this season. Charlotte, Indianapolis and Darlington remain on Elliott's schedule following Richmond. How all these starts will prepare him for 2016 will be seen at the conclusion of 2015.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada this week for the Kobalt Tools 400.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is considered a “Cookie Cutter” race track, but it is much different than other 1.5-mile tracks. It is a fast and very aero-sensitive race track. Having a loose race car is a common problem at Las Vegas. This makes passing very difficult so track position will be at a premium this week.
The key to winning this race will be to have a car that has balance through turn four. Most of the wrecks in the race involve cars trying to carry too much speed through the tricky turn. Teams will push the limits to have a car that is fast through this turn, but teams who go over the limit will find their car in the garage.
Keep in mind the teams who had success last week at Atlanta will be the favorites Sunday. Although the race tracks are nothing alike, teams that figured out the new down-force and aero-packages last week will be the teams which will be fast Sunday.
Here are my picks for the Kolbalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas…
Yahoo Group A Picks
The drivers in Group A of the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game are placed into this group because they have had a lot of success at the 1.5-mile race tracks. It is impossible to be considered an elite driver in the Sprint Cup Series without being able to navigate the race tracks which make up a majority of the race schedule.
Team Penske will be the team to watch this week. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano started on the front row last year with Keselowski finding his way to Victory Lane. Logano is off to a great start this season and there is no reason why he should cool off in the desert. Both drivers would be excellent selections for your team.
My sleeper pick for Group A this week is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He had this race won last year. Earnhardt started 14th and led 51 laps before running out of gas on the last lap. Earnhardt is off to a good start this season with two top-five finishes. He may not qualify up front, but he will be one of the drivers competing for the win at the end of the race.
Here are the two drivers I selected for Group A…
Another name for Las Vegas Motor Speedway could be Jimmie’s Playground. Johnson four wins in his 13 career starts in Sin City. He will have momentum after winning the race last week. The No. 48 team is back and fantasy NASCAR players must consider Johnson a favorite at each race track.
I had a hard time selecting the last driver for Group A. The Team Penske drivers would have been great for qualifying points. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are almost locks for a top-10 finish. I went with Harvick, although his stats here are not great. Harvick was running down Kyle Busch for the lead last year when he had rotor problems. He is too hot to ignore right now.
Other good choices: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth
Yahoo Group B Picks
I learned three things from last week’s race at Atlanta about Group B… 1. Carl Edwards will be the best driver in this group so fantasy teams need to use their allocations wisely with the No. 19 team. 2. It is sad to say, but Tony Stewart looks like he should be retiring at the end of the season. 3. There are many sleepers in this group including Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger and Casey Mears.
My sleeper pick this week is Brain Vickers. Some teams may forget about him since this is his first race back in the car. Last week Brett Moffitt finished eighth in the no. 55 car. Vickers should be able to run up front this week too.
Here are the four drivers I selected for Group B…
Las Vegas is Edwards’s third-best race track. He has two wins and six top-10 finishes in his 10 career starts at the race track. Edwards has a streak of four consecutive top-five finishes at Las Vegas. These stats are with Edwards driving for Roush Fenway Racing. He should be one of the favorite to win in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs racing Ford.
It is hard to trust Kahn on your fantasy team. Last week he looked like a lock for a top-10 finish, but barely finished in the top 15. His stats at Las Vegas are good, so it may be wise to give him another chance. Kahne finished the last two races at Las Vegas in the top 10. Hendrick Motorsports looks like the team to beat, so Kahne should have a fast car Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.
If there is one thing I learned the first two weeks of these season it is that the No. 78 car looks like the car Kurt Busch drove two years ago. Truex is off to a great start this season. He finished second in the Sprint Unlimited, fifth in the Budweiser Dual, eighth in the Daytona 500 and sixth at Atlanta. If you need some luck in Las Vegas, grab Truex for your team.
Las Vegas is Menard’s second-best race track. He has a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a third-place finish in last year’s race. Menard always runs well on the 1.5-mile race tracks early in the season. This is the time to use Menard for your team.
Other good choices: Brian Vickers,Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray
Yahoo Group C Picks
Selecting a driver for Group C is not as difficult as it looked on paper entering the season. Danica Patrick has shown improvement this season. David Ragan and Regan Smith are providing teams an option while the Busch brothers are out of their cars. Some unknown drivers (Brett Moffitt and Matt Crafton) have came out of nowhere provided some help for fantasy teams.
My sleeper pick for Group C this week is Ryan Blaney. He will be driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. The team has an alliance with Team Penske and he should be able to learn a lot from Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski this week.
Here are the two drivers I selected for Group C…
Ragan has not had much success at Las Vegas. When he drove for Roush Fenway Racing he finished most of his races in the top 25. Ragan did have a seventh-place finish at the race track in 2008. Last week was his first race with the No. 18 team and he finished 18th. Ragan should be able to learn from last week’s race and finish in the top 20 this week.
Smith has not been great while filling in for Kurt Busch, but he has not been too bad either. Smith has two consecutive top-20 finishes this season and there is no reason to believe he cannot finish in the top-20 again this week. It will be important to use Smith to save allocations for other drivers later in the season.
Other Good Choices: Danica Patrick, Ryan Blaney and Justin Allgaier
Fantasy Live Picks
One of the biggest misconceptions for Fantasy Live is that fantasy teams must select drivers who start in the back of the field. Fantasy teams get too caught up in where a driver starts the race and overlook the best drivers for the race. Track position is so important at Las Vegas that it will be important to select the best drivers in the field, regardless of where they begin the race.
Last season three drivers led over 50 laps at Las Vegas. Each of these drivers scored at least 25 bonus points for their fantasy teams. If a driver qualifies up front and has a dominant car in the Saturday practice there is a good chance the driver will lead many laps in the race Sunday. These drivers must be on your team at Las Vegas.
Here are the five drivers I selected for Fantasy Live for the race at Las Vegas:
Driver 1: Kevin Harvick $27.50
Driver 2: Jimmie Johnson $27.00
Driver 3: Carl Edwards $22.50
Driver 4: Martin Truex Jr. $17.00
Driver 5: Regan Smith $5.00
Pick to Win: Jimmie Johnson
* Driver prices based on prices at Atlanta
Fox Fantasy Racing
Fantasy teams will have a tough decision to make for Fox Fantasy Racing this week. This games awards fantasy teams for finding the drivers who start in the back and finish up front. The problem is there usually are not many drivers who can make their way through the field at Las Vegas.
As we saw at Atlanta, anything can happen during qualifying. If for some reason the best drivers have difficulties in qualifying and start in the back of the field it will be important to select the driver for your team. My picks this week are based upon recent success at Las Vegas and drivers with an opportunity to win the race.
Here are my selections for Fox Fantasy Racing for Las Vegas:
Driver 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr. $12,900
Driver 2: Jimmie Johnson $10,500
Driver 3: Brad Keselowski $11,500
Driver 4: Carl Edwards $9,400
Driver 5: Regan Smith $5,200
* Driver prices based on prices at Atlanta