Denny Hamlin’s team passes over No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch’s team

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin’s team did not choose the No. 1 pit stall for Sunday’s race, allowing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to have the best pit stall as Busch races for a Cup championship.

Mike Wheeler, Hamlin’s crew chief, had first choice of pit stalls Saturday after Hamlin won the pole Friday night. The pole winner typically picks the No. 1 pit stall, closest to pit exit, because it is the best stall at any track.  

But Hamlin is not competing for a championship, having been eliminated earlier in the playoffs. Busch qualified second, giving his team the second pick of pit stalls.

MORE: Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch 

This move could help Busch win the race and his second championship, just as it could impact Hamlin’s chances of winning the race.

Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, makes his pit stall pick, as Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, looks on. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Car owner Joe Gibbs said he discussed the decision with the team personnel.

“We feel like for us the best thing … at this point would be to have Denny do everything he could to try to win the race,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, we’ve got Daniel (Suarez) and Erik (Jones), same for them. We’re going to do everything we can to win the race there, but we also, for us, have a championship on the line and what we would love to do is win that championship. That’s how the decision was made for us.

“I think if there is any criticism, it goes to me.”

Hamlin’s team took pit stall No. 4, which has an opening in front of it.

“Obviously it’s great to have the number one pit stall for the race and I appreciate the teamwork by the guys on the 11,” Kyle Busch said after Saturday’s final Cup practice. “(Gibbs) and everyone at JGR are focused on doing what they can to bring a championship for the company.”

The pit stalls at Homestead-Miami Speedway are 30-feet, 8-inches long. The No. 1 pit stall is about 40 feet from where the NASCAR camera is located that determines the position off pit road. That allows the car in the No. 1 pit stall to fire out of its box and surge ahead of those traveling down pit road.

That can make the difference between being the leader and having lane choice on a restart. That could be a key factor in who wins the race and the championship.

The decision by Hamlin’s team does not violate Section 7.5 of the Cup Rulebook – the so-called 100 percent rule. That rule states: “NASCAR requires its Competitor(s) to race at 100% of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in the Event.”

The key is “race.” The rule does not regulate selection of pit stalls.

This isn’t the first time Joe Gibbs Racing has done something with a view toward the championship.

Three of the four Gibbs cars ran at the back of the Talladega playoff race in 2016 — when that race was a cutoff race in the second round — instead of running toward the front and risk being involved in an accident that could have eliminated Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Busch from title contention. With that race no longer a cutoff event, that’s not an issue.

NASCAR America: Is this the best Championship 4 ever?

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In the fifth year of the current format, the question being asked on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America is whether this is the greatest assembly of Championship 4 drivers of all times.

The answer is undeniably yes, according to the Dale Jarrett. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano constitute the best Championship 4 thus far.

“We could sit here and talk about how strong they are,” Dale Jarrett said. “We’ve talked about the Big 3 all year and who was going to be that fourth. Joey Logano showed strength as they got into the playoffs. But you don’t have to believe all that we are telling you. Just look at the numbers.”

It is a phrase repeated all too often, but in 2018 the numbers really do speak for themselves.

With his win last week at Phoenix, Busch tied Harvick with eight wins apiece, Truex earned four wins and Joey Logano scored two. With one race remaining, that totals 22 victories. The most previous to this season came last year when Truex, Busch, Harvick and Brad Keselowski combined for 18 wins including Truex’s Miami win.

The Championship 4 combined for 74 top fives. Last year, they had 62 top fives through the season finale in Miami.

“When we talk about the numbers, it is impressive,” Steve Letarte said. “Joey Logano has had a great year, but it has been dominated by three names. I would expect the race (at Miami) to be no different.”

“I think going into Miami, the big deal is they have all been there before,” Burton said. “Having been there; done that matters. The pressure of being in that situation? They’ve all experienced it.”

This will be the fourth appearance among the Championship 4 for Harvick (previously appeared in 2014, 2015 and 2017) and Busch (2015, 2016 and 2017). Truex (2015 and 2017) and Logano (2014 and 2016) have two appearances each.

The Big 3 have been together twice before (2017 and 2015).

2017: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski (combined for 18 wins, 62 top fives)

2016: Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards (15 wins, 53 top fives)

2015: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. (10 wins, 48 top fives)

2014: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano (11 wins, 42 top fives)

For more, watch the videos above.

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Yes, Carl Edwards misses racing. No, he’s not planning a return to NASCAR

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Carl Edwards, who abruptly left NASCAR in January 2017, misses racing. He misses the tires sliding as he drives through the corners. He misses the speed, emotion and people. He misses the pressure of championship week that he experienced in 2011 and 2016 in Miami.

But he’s not coming back to NASCAR.

And so will end one of the favorite parlor games for NASCAR fans — wondering what ride he’ll take after it opens.

“I’ve had a couple of conversations with people but none in the last year or so,” Edwards said Saturday after being inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at Texas Motor Speedway. “I think everyone pretty much understands that I’m not really interested in coming back and doing anything too serious right now. It’s been off my radar for a long time.”

Asked if he’s wavered in the decision to leave, Edwards said: “I will tell you that I do miss driving the cars. I have a feeling that something will come up that will be really, really fun and natural to go do, and I’ll drive a little bit more but definitely I’m not going to sign a three-year contract to go run for a Cup championship.”

Any racing he does — if he gets back in a car — will be on a different level.

“It would have to be something that really excited me,” said Edwards, who won 28 Cup, 38 Xfinity and six Truck races in his career. “The thing that I think I like the most is driving the road courses. I’ve talked to some people about maybe doing some testing at a road course or something. That would be a lot of fun.

“The races I miss the most are really Sonoma, Homestead. Homestead for two reasons because of all the pressure and the championship, I love that. I miss those tracks that you’re sliding around a lot, Atlanta. That kind of stuff would be fun to do. That, naturally, might be a dirt track somewhere or a road course test.”

Edwards said that Saturday was only the second time he’s been at a track on a race weekend since stunning the sport with his announcement before the 2017 season that he would not compete.

He admits he’s not followed the sport since.

“I don’t follow it really because I’m so invested in it and it’s been so close to me that I don’t think I can follow it without wanting to participate,” he said. “It would be just impossible for me. I try not to pay too much attention.

“If I’m going to follow it every week, I might as well come. Then I might as well drive and we’re back into it.”

Instead, Edwards has spent time with family and traveling the world. He’s twice sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Making an Atlantic crossing is really interesting,” Edwards said. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and there are some really neat things about it. Ran into a big pod of whales at one point. I thought it would be a great idea to jump in and swim with them. I didn’t realize how small you could feel as a human being. That was really interesting.”

NASCAR’s best cage rattling short track finishes

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The history of exciting short track finishes in NASCAR is long, colorful and angry.

The latest entry occurred Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway.

Here’s a look at iconic short track finishes that have sent fans into a frenzy and competitors a rage.

“WHERE’S KYLE PETTY?!” – Richmond (Fairgrounds) Raceway – Feb. 23, 1986

Before its multi-million dollar renovations, Richmond Raceway was basically a slab of concrete with a guard rail around it.

The old Richmond track was the site of Kyle Petty’s first Cup win. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for an intense battle between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip that ended with three laps to go with contact in Turn 3 and a vicious multi-car wreck.

This is also the race where Earnhardt famously cleaned his own windshield while on the track.

GORDON vs WALLACE X 2 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol Motor Speedway is synonymous with the names Earnhardt and Labonte.

But Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace have multiple Bristol entanglements in their history.

April 13, 1997

Their first run-in came on the final lap of the spring race, with Gordon giving Wallace the bump-and-run in Turn 3 and sneaking by for the win.

Aug. 24, 2002

This time it was under the lights.

With flames on his hood instead of a rainbow, Gordon gave Wallace the boot with three laps to go and went on to snap a 31-race winless streak.

THE INTIMIDATOR STRIKES BACK – Bristol Motor Speedway, Aug. 28, 1999

Earnhardt was up to it again.

Four years earlier, Bristol hosted the first round of The Intimidator vs the Ice Man, as Earnhardt wrecked Terry Labonte coming to the checkered flag. Labonte won and pulled an obliterated No. 5 Chevrolet into Victory Lane.

Earnhardt wasn’t having any of that this time.

The seven-time champion spun Labonte as they entered Turn 1 on final lap and slipped by to earn his 73rd Cup win.

If not for a mechanical problem, Labonte said recently he would have retaliated. 

 

MARTINSVILLE MARVEL – Martinsville Speedway, April 1, 2007

After Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the winningest drivers at Martinsville are Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied with nine.

In 2007, Johnson entered the April Martinsville race with just two wins on the short track. He got No. 3 after coming out on top of an 18-lap battle with Gordon.

The last lap looked almost like its 2018 counterpart, except Gordon never led.

TEAMMATE TAP Richmond Raceway, April 24, 2016

Richmond returns to the list courtesy of Carl Edwards’ bump-and-run of teammate Kyle Busch in the final turn two years ago.

PLAYOFF PUNT – Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

It’s still fresh on everyone’s mind.

Sunday’s move by Joey Logano that Martin Truex Jr. called a “cheap shot.”

An intense five-lap battle turned into an almost three-wide finish at the checkered flag, with Logano clinching a spot in the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Daniel Suarez gets new crew chief for final six races of season

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Crew chief Scott Graves is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and will be replaced immediately by Dave Rogers, the team announced Tuesday.

Rogers has served as technical director for JGR’s Xfinity operation. He will be the crew chief for Daniel Suarez the rest of the season.

Rogers and Suarez worked together for five races in 2017, Suarez’s rookie year, before Rogers took a personal leave of absence. Graves had been Suarez’s crew chief since then.

Rogers has 18 career Cup wins while working with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards at JGR.

Suarez was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver not to make the Cup playoffs this season. He enters this weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway 18th in points.