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Reliving some of NASCAR’s most dramatic finishes

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The Minnesota Vikings’ win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday marked the first time in NFL history that a playoff game ended with a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

NASCAR has had its share of dramatic finishes through the years. While it’s easy to debate which dramatic finishes rank among the all-time best, here’s a look at some of the most dramatic (and surprising) wins in NASCAR.

The first selection comes from what is now the Xfinity Series. It was the 2012 season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch led with Kyle Busch pushing him as they entered Turn 3. Behind them were Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Elliott SadlerRicky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne, Cole Whitt and Brad Keselowski.

None of them won the race. 

James Buescher, who was 11th in Turn 4 won for his only Xfinity victory in 91 career starts. 

 

Carl Edwards had won the Xfinity race the day at Atlanta but had yet to win in 16 previous Cup starts before he cranked the engine at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2005. Edwards came from behind to beat Jimmie Johnson at the line in among the closest finishes in NASCAR.

 

Dale Earnhardt’s incredible ride from 18th to first in the final five laps in 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway is memorable for that alone but it also was his 76th and final Cup victory. When the video clip below starts, you don’t even see Earnhardt but he’s there lurking and works his way up the field. With two laps left, announcer Jerry Punch exclaims: “The Intimidator is scraped and beaten on the right side, but he will not be denied! “Mr. Restrictor Plate knows there are two laps to go! Earnhardt drives to the high side of Bobby Labonte. Wow.”

 

As they took the white flag at Watkins Glen International in 2012, Kyle Busch led, Brad Keselowski was second and Marcos Ambrose was third.

What followed was a chaotic final lap that ended with Ambrose winning. It led broadcaster Dale Jarrett to say about the beating, banging and battling: “A year’s worth of excitement in 2.45 miles. Incredible.”

 

Ricky Craven tried to make his move by Kurt Busch with two laps to go at Darlington Raceway in 2003 but slid up and made contact with Busch and lost his momentum. That allowed Busch to dive underneath and take the lead back. Craven persisted. As they came off the final corner, Craven went underneath Busch for a door-slamming drag race to the checkered flag, nipping Busch by 0.002 seconds to win.

Of course, one can’t include such a list without one of the sport’s most famous finishes. Donnie Allison led Cale Yarborough on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Yarborough dived low on the backstretch to pass Allison, who blocked. They hit, bounced off each other and hit again before crashing in Turn 3. Richard Petty drove by several seconds later to take the lead and go on to win the event. As Petty celebrated, Allison, Yarborough and Bobby Allison, who had stopped to check on his brother, fought.

 

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And there’s a fight! Memorable NASCAR altercations through the years

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With one punch Sunday after the Kobalt 400, Kyle Busch added another entry into the long history of fights in NASCAR.

Busch was mad at Joey Logano after contact on the last lap between the two caused Busch to slide onto pit road and finish 22nd. Beginning with Sunday’s fight, here’s a look at some of the memorable fights that have occurred in NASCAR over the last 15 years.

March 12, 2017 – Kyle Busch and Joey Logano at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Video by Jeff Gluck

Nov. 2, 2014 – Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon at Texas Motor Speedway (playoff race)

Oct. 11, 2014 – Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth at Charlotte Motor Speedway (playoff race)

April 26, 2014 – Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose at Richmond International Raceway

March 24, 2013 – Tony Stewart and Joey Logano at Auto Club Speedway

Nov. 11, 2012 – Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon’s crew at Phoenix Raceway (playoff race)

Nov. 7, 2010 – Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton at Texas Motor Speedway (playoff race)

March 26, 2006 – Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth at Bristol Motor Speedway

Sept. 6, 2003 – Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd at Richmond International Raceway

 

March 24, 2002 – Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Upon Further Review: Kansas

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Ryan Blaney’s fifth-place finish Saturday night at Kansas Speedway marked the fourth time in the last five races that a rookie has placed in the top five.

The streak started at Texas with Chase Elliott finishing fifth. Elliott was fourth at Bristol. No rookie was in the top five at Richmond (Elliott was the top rookie, placing 12th). Elliott placed fifth at Talladega, while Blaney was ninth. And then Kansas.

“When you can run with the best guys, you learn a lot,’’ Blaney said. “That was a great learning experience.”

Elliott has seven top-10 finishes to lead all Hendrick Motorsports drivers. He also has three top-five finishes. Blaney has one top-five and four top-10 finishes for the Wood Brothers this season.

Kyle Busch’s victory not only was his series-high third win of the year but also tied him with Tony Stewart for career victories at Joe Gibbs Racing with 33.

That ranks sixth among current teams in most wins with the same organization. Jeff Gordon is first with all 93 of his Sprint Cup victories at Hendrick Motorsports.

Stewart is the only driver who either has or is tied for the most wins at more than one organization. He also has the most wins at Stewart-Haas Racing with 15.

Here’s a look at the current Sprint Cup teams and the driver with the most wins at that organization.

Chip Ganassi Racing — Jamie McMurray … 5 wins

Front Row Motorsports — David Ragan … 1 win

Furniture Row Racing — Regan Smith and Martin Truex Jr. … 1 win

Hendrick Motorsports — Jeff Gordon … 93 wins

Joe Gibbs Racing — Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch … 33 wins

JTG Daugherty — A.J. Allmendinger … 1 win

Richard Childress Racing — Dale Earnhardt … 67 wins

Richard Petty Motorsports — Marcos Ambrose and Kasey Kahne … 2 wins

Roush Fenway Racing — Mark Martin … 35 wins

Stewart-Haas Racing — Tony Stewart … 15 wins

Team Penske — Rusty Wallace … 37 wins

Wood Brothers Racing — David Pearson … 43 wins

Denny Hamlin nearly has equaled the number of speeding penalties he had last year with 25 races remaining in the Sprint Cup season.

Hamlin’s two speeding penalties Saturday at Kansas give him six for the season. He had seven last year.

While Brad Keselowski rallied from a speeding penalty to win at Las Vegas, 15.2 percent of drivers assessed a speeding penalty came back to finish in the top 10 this season. Only 6.1 percent of those assessed a speeding penalty this year scored a top-five finish. Keselowski has done it twice with his Vegas win and a fifth-place finish at Martinsville.

Drivers with the most speeding penalties this year:

6 – Denny Hamlin

5 – Kyle Larson

4 – Greg Biffle

4 – Austin Dillon

3 – Brad Keselowski

3 – Casey Mears

3 – David Ragan

3 – Brian Scott

3 – Regan Smith

3 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

— Only three drivers have scored top-10 finishes in each of the four races on 1.5-mile tracks this season.

Kansas winner Kyle Busch also won at Texas, the most recent 1.5-mile race before Kansas, and was third at Atlanta and fourth at Las Vegas. His average finish at 1.5-mile tracks this season is 2.3.

Kevin Harvick, who finished second at Kansas, placed sixth at Atlanta, seventh at Las Vegas and 10th at Texas for an average finish of 6.3 at those tracks.

Kurt Busch, who finished third at Kansas, was fourth at Atlanta, ninth at Las Vegas and ninth at Texas. His average finish at those tracks is 6.3.

— There have been six different winners in the first 11 races of the season. That’s the fewest number of different winners at this point in a season since 2007 when there also were six winners.

In 2007, Jimmie Johnson (four wins), Kevin Harvick (one) and Kyle Busch (one) combined for six of those 11 wins. In 2016, Johnson (two), Harvick (one) and Busch (three) also combined for six wins.

Report: Marcos Ambrose’s racing days likely over, says Roger Penske

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Former NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose won’t be back racing in the Australian V8 Supercar Series in 2016, at least not for Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske.

DJR Team Penske co-owner Roger Penske told Australia’s SpeedCafe.com that Ambrose will not return to the team as a driver next season.

SpeedCafe.com did not reach Ambrose for comment. However, Ambrose said recently that he hasn’t reached a final decision on his driving future, but that he may still make some part-time starts, especially at endurance races, with DJRTP. Based on what Penske said, that no longer appears likely.

MORE: Marcos Ambrose’s decision on his future is drawing closer

“I’ve talked to Marcos and he has made a decision that if he’s not the primary driver he doesn’t really want to be a co-driver (in endurance races),” Penske told SpeedCafe.com. “I respect him for that.

“He reminds me of Rick Mears when he came to me, won Indianapolis (500) four times for us and then said, ‘At this point I just don’t have it in my gut to go as hard as you have to’.

“Marcos didn’t say that to me, but he said, ‘Look, I’ve come back, put my foot in the water and it’s probably not what I want to do on a going forward basis’.”

However, Penske hopes to keep the 39-year-old Ambrose in the DJRTP fold in a non-driving capacity.

“I think from a driving perspective, (Ambrose) won’t be in a car,” Penske said. “But hopefully he will work with us on the commercial side. He’d still come to certain key races to support us.

“He likes some of the commercial aspects of our business, so hopefully we can tie something together there. We haven’t done that yet, but it’s something we’re interested in.”

Penske did not address whether Ambrose might be interested in other non-driving roles such as a driver coach or consultant, much like Mears has been to Team Penske on the IndyCar Series since he retired after the 1992 season.

Ambrose returned to his native Australia last November after nine seasons competing in NASCAR. Expectations were high that he’d do well in the V8 Supercar Series, in which he won championships in 2003 and 2004 before moving to the U.S. to race in NASCAR.

However, after great anticipation, Ambrose stepped out of his V8 Supercar ride after just the first race of the 2015 season.

DJRTP in 2016 will expand to a two-car team with Scott Pye, who replaced Ambrose this season, and Fabian Coulthard.

Penske said he’s not disappointed with Ambrose deciding to step aside.

“I don’t think that he doesn’t want to do it (drive), but he’s at a stage at his career where he wants to be with his family and work with his dad,” Penske said. “He’s been away, he’s home now and I think that’s weighing heavily on him. It’s a personal decision.”

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Five things to watch in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – An undulating 2.45-mile road course — where talent is regarded at a premium and aerodynamics emphasized at a minimum — hardly is where manufacturer influence is expected to shine.

That makes General Motors dominance in qualifying for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International all the more striking.

Led by A.J. Allmendinger’s 2015 sweep of road-course pole positions,  Chevrolets captured the top seven starting spots and nine of the top 10. Only the hottest driver in NASCAR’s premier series – Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota qualified eighth – was able to break the stranglehold.

Ford didn’t crack the top 10 and placed only one Fusion – Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 qualified 11th —  in the final round in qualifying.

Though little of the preparation for Watkins Glen will transfer to the schedule’s preponderance of 1.5-mile ovals that will factor greatly into determining the Sprint Cup championship, the disparity has some concerned – particularly with Ford having won only two of the season’s first 21 races.

“A lot,” Keselowski said Saturday when asked what Ford needed to improve. “There’s no secret. We’re not where we want to be at the Cup level. I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. It’s going to require a lot of work, and we’re trying to get there.

“I think we can get there, but there’s no doubt to me that the Toyotas and Chevrolet camp are a little bit ahead of where we are at the Cup level.”

Toyota has won four consecutive for the first time and five of the past six races in NASCAR’s premier series in an emergence coinciding with Busch’s return from a broken right leg and fractured left foot. But the Japanese manufacturer also struggled mightily in qualifying at The Glen with only four Camrys starting in the top 20.

Though divergent strategies and double-file restart aggression can turn any road-course event upside down, the Chevrolets’ excellent starting positions tab them as major favorites at the Glen.

Other storylines to watch:

Difficult milestone: Sunday marks one year since his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., and that isn’t the only reason why the focus has returned to Tony Stewart this weekend. Ward’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday against the three-time series champion, who will race at Watkins Glen today for the first time in three years after missing last season because of Ward’s death and the 2013 event because of a broken leg.

The all-time winner at Watkins Glen is well-positioned to earn his sixth victory here after qualifying third (his best starting position at the track since winning from the pole in 2005), and triumphing in the midst of tumult and controversy at the Glen wouldn’t be new for him. In 2002, Stewart earned his first win at Watkins Glen a week after he struck a photographer in postrace at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nearly losing his sponsor and ride.

Pit miscues: It’s the only track on the Cup circuit where cars enter the pits from the left, forcing teams to complete their pit stop choreography in reverse. There were 33 pit penalties assessed during Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, and while some of those likely could be attributed to drivers adjusting to NASCAR’s video officiating system (which isn’t used at standalone races such as last week at Iowa Speedway), they also could be a precursor of what’s to come today.

Stoppage time: If the 90-lap race begins with a long green-flag stint, keep an eye on when the first stops are made. Teams that are in the pits within the first 20 laps likely will be on a three-stop strategy that was employed by last year’s top two finishers, Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.

The key to making an extra stop, though, is having a fast car. Without speed, it’s a futile tactic.

Goodbye 24: After a record nine wins on road-course tracks in Sprint Cup, this likely will be Jeff Gordon’s last time in a stock car making laps that require right turns. Last year he started from the pole and led 29 laps before a mechanical problem, so his fifth-place starting spot today bodes well for the potential of a triumphant farewell.