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Race Report: Texas

Joe Gibbs Racing’s two remaining Chase entries secured top five finishes in this afternoon’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch led the way with a fourth-place finish and Edwards came home just one spot behind in fifth. Meanwhile rookie Erik Jones had a solid day filling in for Matt Kenseth with a 12th-place finish, while Denny Hamlin suffered a mechanical issue early in the race that relegated him to a 38th-place finish.

This was the second race of the Eliminator Round of 8 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The field will be reduced to just four teams following next week’s race at Phoenix. A final Championship Four will compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22. By virtue of his win last weekend in Martinsville, Jeff Gordon was the first to qualify for the final four. Today’s winner, Jimmie Johnson, was already eliminated from the Chase. Thus seven drivers will compete for the final three spots and an opportunity to run for the Championship in Homestead. Busch is currently second in points and 11 points ahead of fifth place which is currently held by his teammate Carl Edwards. Edwards is seven points behind Martin Truex, Jr. and 10 points behind Kevin Harvick. Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano currently sit sixth, seventh and eighth in the standings.
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Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota in third position and it was obvious from the outset that he would have a car capable of competing for a win this afternoon. Busch was in the top five through the first third of the race and was running second on lap 100. The handling on his No. 18 Camry would become loose on the exit of the turns on a green flag run just prior to the halfway mark of the race and Busch would drop back to run sixth. Crew chief Adam Stevens would call for adjustments to help those handling issues and Busch would restart sixth on lap 154. He would line up ninth for a restart on lap 203. Busch would drive his way back into sixth with 100 laps remaining. He would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops in fifth on lap 257. He would run third before coming down pit road under the green flag with 37 laps remaining and he would cycle through in fifth at lap 300. A caution with 24 laps remaining would bring Busch back down pit road and the M&M’s Crispy Toyota would restart fifth. He would go on to finish the day in fifth and second in overall points heading to Phoenix next Sunday.

Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota in the 13th position and was able to race just outside the top 10 through the early going. Edwards would run seventh at the 100-lap mark of the race despite battling handling issues on his Camry. Crew chief Darian Grubb would continue to call for adjustments to help the Sport Clips Camry turn better in the corners of the track. A great pit stop would allow Edwards to restart third just after the halfway mark and he would move into second on the next run. He would hold that spot for a lap 203 restart and ran fourth with 100 laps remaining. He would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops in third on lap 256. He would come to pit road under the green flag with 38 laps remaining and cycled back to run eighth. A caution with 24 laps remaining would bring the leaders back down pit road and the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota lined up seventh for the restart. He would go on to finish fifth and is now fifth in the overall point standings, just seven points behind the 78 for the final transfer spot.

Erik Jones, who is filling in for Matt Kenseth the next two weekends, qualified the No. 20 DEWALT Toyota in the sixth position. With two practice sessions rained out on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway Jones’ time in the No. 20 Camry was limited prior to today’s race. That didn’t seem to bother the young driver however as he battled inside the top ten through the early portion of the race. Tire wear would prove to be a major issue throughout the afternoon and crew chief Jason Ratcliff would bring the rookie driver down pit road for fresh tires. With many other leaders staying out on the track under that stop, Jones lined up 26th for the restart on lap 42. It didn’t take him long to make his way back to the front however and he was up to eighth by lap 100. Jones was still eighth for a restart on lap 154. The DEWALT Camry would become loose on the next green flag run and Jones was back in 10th for a restart on lap 203. Those loose conditions would continue on the next green flag run and he would drop back outside the top ten to run 13th with l00 lap remaining. He would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops in 14th at lap 257. Jones would continue to fight toward a spot in the top ten with 30 laps to go but got damage to the right front of the car just prior to a caution with 24 laps to go. The team would make the necessary repairs on pit road to keep him on the lead lap and he would go on to finish the day in 12th.

Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota in ninth and would bring his Camry down pit road following an early caution. That would put Hamlin back in 20th for the ensuing restart and shortly thereafter he would radio in that he was experiencing an issue with fuel pick up. Crew chief Dave Rogers would instruct him to bring the car to the garage and the FedEx crew would go to work on repairs. However Hamlin would find himself many laps off the pace by the time he was able to resume racing. He would go on to finish the afternoon back in 38th.

Jimmie Johnson captured the win, followed by Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Busch, and Edwards rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions for a total of 47 laps and 15 lead changes among eight different drivers.

The third and final race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will take place next week at Phoenix International Raceway. NBC will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 2:30 PM (race begins at 2:45 PM ET).

Race Report: Martinsville

A steady morning rain moved out of Martinsville Speedway just in time for the start of this afternoon’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500. Short track racing often creates high drama and this afternoon was no different at the famed Virginia track known as the “paper clip”.

When it was over, just before darkness settled on Martinsville, Denny Hamlin would lead Joe Gibbs Racing with a third place finish, while Kyle Busch finished fifth, Carl Edwards 14th and late race accidents left Matt Kenseth back in 38th.

This was the first race of the Eliminator Round of 8 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The field will be reduced to just four teams following the next two races at Texas and Phoenix respectively. A final Championship Four will compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22. By virtue of his win this afternoon, Jeff Gordon is the first to qualify for the final four. Busch is currently second in points just eight back of the leader Gordon, while Edwards sits in fifth, 17 points behind.

Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota in eighth and was trying to hold a spot in the top 10 before a pit road speeding penalty on lap 53 forced him to drop to the back of the pack. Hamlin would try and work his way back toward the front but was caught up in a wreck and spun on lap 112. He would pick up some damage to the nose of the FedEx Camry and would pit on lap 129 under caution for repairs. Hamlin would patiently work his way back inside the top 20 and was 15th by lap 225. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Hamlin would line up 11th for a restart on lap 242. He would run 13th on lap 300, but was able to drive his way back inside the top five by lap 350. He was running fourth when a caution came out on lap 375. He would run seventh at lap 400, but another pit road speeding penalty on lap 420 would send him to the back of lead lap cars once again. However Hamlin proved once again why he is considered one of the best at this short track as he drove his way back to the front yet again. He would earn a solid third-place finish.

Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota in sixth position and was patient through the early going as he worked to hold a spot in the top ten. He would restart eighth on lap 120. Kyle would continue to hold a spot inside the top 10 when he got loose after running through water that was left from the rain earlier in the day and made contact with the 3 car causing damage to the right front of his Camry car on lap 172. The M&M’S Crispy crew would make quick repairs allowing Busch to restart 26th on lap 180. He would race his way back inside the top 15 to run 14th by lap 220 and was inside the top ten by lap 235. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Busch would line up ninth for a restart on lap 242. He would run eighth on lap 300. A caution on lap 375 would bring the leaders back down pit road and Busch would line up seventh for the ensuing restart. He would run eighth at lap 400. Busch would avoid any trouble over several late restarts to earn a solid fifth-place run.

Carl Edwards started the No. 19 XFINITY Toyota in the 14th position and showed patience through the early going as he battled for position inside the top 15. He was fighting to move his way into the top ten when he his teammate Busch would get loose in front of him causing the 47 to check up directly in front of Edwards. Edwards would make hard contact with the back of the 47 resulting in significant damage to the nose of his XFINITY Camry. The 19 team would make quick repairs to get the hood back down and amazingly Edwards would remain on the lead lap and restart 29th on lap 180. He would run 24th on lap 225 while battling tight handling conditions. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Edwards would line up 23rd for a restart on lap 245. He would climb back inside the top 20 to run 19th on lap 300, but fell a lap down to the leaders on one of the longer green flag runs of the race. Edwards would run 20th at lap 400, but managed to earn the lucky dog to get back on the lead lap when a caution came out on lap 436. From there he was able to drive his way back into the top 15 to earn a 14th-place finish.

Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the 18th position and patiently worked his way toward the front of the field over the course of the first 100 laps. Some quick work by the Dollar General crew on pit road helped his track position and allowed him to restart fourth on lap 112. He would continue to hold a spot in the top 10 but pitted under caution while many other leaders remained out on the track leaving him to restart back in 26th on lap 190. The loss of track position did little to deter Kenseth however and he drove his way back inside the top 10 on the ensuing green flag run. He was up to eighth by lap 225. A caution just before the halfway mark would bring the field back down pit road and Kenseth would line up fifth for a restart on lap 242. He would work his way into second by lap 255. Another caution would bring him back down pit road but a broken air gun would cost the team several spots and he would restart back in 16th on lap 284. He would work his way back up to run 12th on lap 300 and ran 10th when a caution came out on lap 375. Kenseth would line up 11th for the restart following a round of pit stops. He would run 12th at lap 400. Kenseth would work his way back to the front of the field and was running back inside the top five on lap 436 when the 2 car got loose and came up into the 20 causing an accident that left significant damage to the Dollar General Camry. The crew made major repairs on pit road to keep Kenseth on the track but a few laps later he would get into the 22 car and this time the damage would send him to the garage. He would officially finish back in 38th.

Jeff Gordon captured the win, followed by Jamie McMurray, Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. There were 18 cautions for a total of 109 laps and 21 lead changes among nine different drivers.

The second race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will take place next week at Texas Motor Speedway. NBC will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 1:30 PM (race begins at 2:15 PM ET).

Race Report: Talladega

Talladega Superspeedway is well known to be home of the “wild card” race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship and today proved no different. When it was over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch had advanced to the next round, while Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were eliminated from championship contention.

Edwards led JGR in today’s Campingworld.com 500 with a fifth-place finish while Busch was 11th. Kenseth, who was wrecked as the leader with just a few laps remaining one week ago in Kansas, finished today in 26th and eliminated from the Chase. Hamlin was also eliminated after a problem with his roof hatch forced him to make several unscheduled pit stops and fall two laps behind the leader. A late-race accident would also factor into his 37th-place finish.

This was the final race of the Contender Round of 12 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The field has now been reduced to just eight teams leading into next week’s race in Martinsville. The Eliminator Round consists of the next three races on the schedule with Texas and Phoenix following Martinsville. Four more teams will be eliminated following the race at Phoenix leaving a Final Championship Four to compete for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22. Also eliminated today were Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Subway Toyota in the 15th position and was content racing toward the back of the pack for much of the first half of the race. Edwards would work his way toward the front of the field as the race neared its conclusion. Earlier in the week NASCAR altered the rule from three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to just one. Edwards would find himself battling for a spot in the top five when the 4 car, who was struggling with issues to his motor and unable to bring his car to full speed, triggered an accident by turning into the 6 car just as the leaders passed the start/finish line. NASCAR was forced to throw the caution ending the race and Edwards was scored in fifth. He now advances into the Eliminator Round of eight which starts next week in Martinsville.

Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota in 16th and spent the afternoon navigating the pack style of racing that Talladega is well-known for. He would lead the field for 11 laps starting on lap 140. NASCAR’s new rule limiting green-white-checkered finishes from three attempts to just one would play into today’s finish. Busch would line up in the middle of the pack and with every point counting toward his place in the standings he was looking for an opportunity to gain position. A caution for a blown engine on the 1 car would bring out a caution on lap 185. It appeared the field was set for a green-white-checkered finish but several cars wrecked prior to the leaders reaching the start/finish line and NASCAR ruled it was not an official attempt. By avoiding that accident Busch would however gain several key spots on the track. That wreck ultimately set up another restart on lap 196. Once again the field would wreck shortly after the drop of the green flag but this time they had passed the start/finish line and NASCAR ruled the race was official. Busch was scored in 11th and advances into the next round by three points.

Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 DEWALT Toyota from the fourth position and was patient throughout the afternoon while racing in the main pack of cars. He would find his way to the front of the field on lap 137 and led three laps. Earlier in the week NASCAR altered the rule from three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to just one. Kenseth would find himself outside of the top ten for the final restart but any hopes of making a late run to the front were dashed when the 4 car, who was struggling with issues to his motor and unable to bring his car to full speed, triggered an accident by turning into the 6 car just as the leaders passed the start/finish line. NASCAR was forced to throw the caution ending the race and Kenseth, who was sent spinning down onto the apron would end up being scored in the 26th position. He is now eliminated from championship contention.

Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in eighth and he would lead early on two different occasions this afternoon as he maneuvered his way through the pack. Around lap 80 Hamlin would radio in to his crew that the roof hatch on his No. 11 Camry had come loose. With fear that the roof hatch could break off at the high speeds of Talladega Superspeedway Hamlin would be forced to come to pit road for repairs. Unfortunately the first attempt to repair the issue didn’t hold for long and he would have to come back a second time on lap 92. The process would cause Hamlin to fall two laps off the pace. Although he entered the day as the leader in points behind only the 20 car, which won the opening two races of the segment of the Chase, Hamlin was suddenly on the edge in points. When the 4 car set off a wreck on the day’s only green-white-checkered finish Hamlin would hit hard into the 14 car ending his day and losing an additional lap in the process. That left him back to finish 37th and he would miss the final transfer spot by just eight points.

Joey Logano captured the win, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, and Edwards rounded out the top five. There were three cautions for a total of 18 laps and 30 lead changes among 18 different drivers. In addition to Busch and Edwards, the final eight remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship include Logano, Keselowski, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will open the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship next week at Martinsville Speedway. NBCSN will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 12:30 PM (race begins at 1:15 PM ET).

Race Report: Kansas

Joe Gibbs Racing had a strong showing in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 from Kansas Speedway, but it would end with frustration, when Matt Kenseth was hit from behind while leading with just three laps remaining. Kenseth would be left to finish back in 14th, while his three teammates all earned top ten finishes. Denny Hamlin would lead JGR with a second-place finish, while Kyle Busch was fifth and Carl Edwards eighth.

This was the second race of the Contender Round of 12 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The current field of 12 will be reduced to just eight following next week’s race at Talladega. Today’s finish leaves Hamlin as the leader in points behind Joey Logano, who won both of the races to open this round of the Chase and thus is the only driver entering Talladega assured of advancing into the round of eight. Hamlin is 18 points in front of the ninth place, while Edwards is currently fourth in the point standings and 12 points in front of ninth. Busch is in the ninth position, but just six points out of eighth.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in the fifth position but dropped back to run eighth prior to the first round of pit stops. He would restart ninth on lap 39 and fell back outside the top ten on the ensuing green flag run. The handling of his FedEx Camry would need adjustments and the No. 11 team would take the time to make those during the second round of stops. Hamlin would drop back to run just inside the top 20. However the adjustments appeared to work as he began to drive back toward the front of the field. He was back inside the top ten by the halfway point and battled there the remainder of the race. Hamlin would re-enter the top five and a great pit stop put him on the second row for a restart on lap 248. He would line up second for a green-white-checkered restart but was unable to get past the 22 car over the final two laps and settled for a strong second-place run.

Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota in the third position and dropped back to run seventh prior to the first caution of the race. He would restart eighth on lap 39. Busch would drop outside the top ten on the next green flag run, but crew chief Adam Stevens would make the call for the necessary adjustments to help the M&M’S Camry turn better in the corners. He would re-enter the top ten by lap 90 and remained in the top ten the remainder of the afternoon. Busch would manage to drive his way to a fifth-place finish.

Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota in the second position but fell back to run fifth prior to the first caution of the afternoon. He would restart third on lap 39 following the first round of pit stops. The No. 19 Camry would struggle to find the proper handling on the difficult mile and a half track in Kansas and Edwards would find himself outside the top ten. He would continue to battle however and managed to work his way back toward the front. He would manage to lead twice on the afternoon during rounds of green flag pit stops and patiently worked his way back toward the top ten. Edwards would go on to earn an eighth-place finish.

Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the 11th position but quickly advanced into the top ten. He would enter the top five for a lap 39 restart following the first round of pit stops. He would hold steady inside the top five for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, Kenseth dominated much of the race, taking his first lead of the afternoon on lap 72. He would lead a race-high seven times for 153 total laps. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would bring the Dollar General Camry down pit road for a final time following a lap 244 caution and he would restart second behind the 48, who made the call to remain out on the track. Kenseth immediately took the lead once again on the restart and was working hard to hold off the 22 car of Logano. Unfortunately as the two approached lapped traffic with three laps remaining, the 22 made contact with the left rear corner of the No. 20 and sent Kenseth spinning down the track. He would bring the car down pit road for four fresh tires, but had to restart 15th. Despite a strong performance throughout the afternoon he would go on to finish 14th.

Joey Logano captured the win, followed by Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. There were seven cautions for a total of 39 laps and 21 lead changes among nine different drivers. The race was extended two laps for a green-white-checkered finish.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series continues the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship next weekend in Talladega. NBCSN will provide live broadcast coverage of the race starting at 2:30 PM ET (race begins at 2:45 PM ET) on Sunday, October 25.

Cody Coughlin Scores Strong Second-Place Finish in Winchester 400

At the end of 400 laps around the 37-degree banking of Indiana’s Winchester Speedway, Cody Coughlin crossed the finish line in the second-place spot after a hard-fought race from his fifth-place starting spot.

Coughlin and the team stuck to their game-plan throughout the race. Nick Easton devised a strategy for survival and it worked. That strategy saw Coughlin battle for the lead and run a little further back to conserve his car for the entire distance.

The 19-year-old Delaware, Ohio driver ran in the second-place spot early in the afternoon as he tried to chase down leader Christopher Bell. Coughlin dropped back a few spots as he started to save his equipment for the latter stages of the marathon event.

As he worked his way back through the field in his Team JEGS Toyota, Coughlin brought his machine down pit road under caution. The car shut off and had to be pushed to be re-fired, but Coughlin didn’t lose too many spots.

Coughlin muscled his way back through the field and moved back into second. He put pressure on Erik Jones for the win, but the rising stars of our sport would finish in that order.

“I’m pretty happy overall,” said Coughlin. “Obviously I’d really like to be celebrating a win right now, but this is still a good day. I’m really happy with our pit stops today. My crew chief (Nick Easton) had a great strategy for today. My spotter (Scott Wimmer) did a great job in my ear today, and Kevin (Hamlin, Team Manager) and Dave (Holt, crew-member) helped guide this team to a shot at the victory.

“I’m just so thankful for a day like today. I’ve got so much love and support from my mom and dad (Di and John) and I’m so thankful that our good Lord gave us a safe race.”