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Category: Jimmie Johnson

Huge crash early in Daytona 500 collects 14 NASCAR drivers

Daytona1_600

The "Big One" struck early in the Daytona 500 on Sunday when the cars of 14 drivers -- including reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson and his teammate Jeff Gordon -- were involved in a crash on the 29th lap of the 200-lap race.

Martin Martin, another teammate of Johnson's at Hendrick Motorsports, also was involved at the melee at Daytona International Speedway, as were Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann, among others.

Johnson and Gordon were among the drivers whose crews were frantically repairing their cars, hoping to at least finish the season-opening race, but their hopes of winning were finished.

The crash started when Waltrip, Reutimann's team owner and former Daytona 500 winner, tapped the back of Reutimann's Toyota and sent it spinning directly in front of a pack of other cars.

Defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray was leading, followed by his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Kevin Harvick, the Bakersfield native who won the Daytona 500 in 2007, was knocked out of the race on lap 22 when his No. 29 Chevrolet suffered a blown engine.

The race opened with a moment of silence -- except for the roaring engines of the 43 cars as they barreled around the 2.5-mile speedway -- on the third lap in remembrance of Dale Earnhardt, who died 10 years ago in his iconic No. 3 Chevrolet on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Under breezy, postcard-perfect conditions, those in the crowd of more than 175,000 also held up three fingers during the lap in tribute to the seven-time Cup champion. Then they cheered as the cars crossed the start-finish line to start the fourth lap.

--Jim Peltz, reoorting from Daytona Beach, Fla.

Photo: Several cars are sent spinning and colliding during a 14-car accident on the 29th lap of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire

NASCAR's Hendrick: Crew-chief shuffle not just about helping Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt

Hendrick Motorsports' shuffling of crew chiefs for three of its four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams was not aimed only at helping Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebound from his long slump, team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday.

"This was not a move we made because of Dale or his situation," Hendrick told reporters on a conference call. The whole organization "just kind of got complacent, and other teams were just getting stronger and stronger," he said.

Hendrick announced Tuesday that Earnhardt would now be paired with Steve Letarte, who had been Jeff Gordon's crew chief. Lance McGrew will move from Earnhardt's team to be Mark Martin's crew chief, and crew chief Alan Gustafson was moved from Martin's car to Gordon's.

Jimmie Johnson, who won an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup title on Sunday, stays with longtime crew chief Chad Knaus. But Hendrick said even Johnson's team "was off" at times this season.

"We need to be better across the board," Hendrick said. "We’re going to get better; we’re going to work harder. I thought it was time to shake it up a bit."

Hendrick finished 1-2-3 in the Cup standings in 2009 with Johnson, Martin and Gordon, respectively. But this year, Gordon finished ninth in points, Martin was 13th and Earnhardt 21st. None of those three drivers won during the 36-race season this year.

Earnhardt, in fact, has gone 93 races since his last win in 2008, even though Hendrick in mid-2009 replaced Earnhardt's then-crew-chief, Earnhardt's cousin Tony Eury Jr., with McGrew.

"Sometimes it just gets to a point, the frustration sets in and it just can’t work," Hendrick said. "It doesn’t mean that Dale is not a good driver or Lance isn’t a good crew chief. It just got to the point where it was not working, and we needed to do something different.

"One of things I want to do before I hang it up is I want to make sure I give [Earnhardt] everything he needs to get the job done," Hendrick said. "It’s not for lack of effort on our behalf or a lack of effort on his. The pressure is there, I accept it."

--Jim Peltz

Photo: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88) leads Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Nov. 14 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Credit: Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire

Hendrick shuffles crew chiefs for NASCAR's Earnhardt, Gordon and Martin

Junior

Hendrick Motorsports on Tuesday shuffled crew chiefs for three of its four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

While the team's fourth driver, Jimmie Johnson, won an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup championship on Sunday, the others had varying degrees of problems this season, prompting the changes.

Hendrick made the following crew-chief switches:

-- Steve Letarte moved to Earnhardt from Gordon.

-- Alan Gustafson moved to Gordon from Martin.

-- Lance McGrew moved to Martin from Earnhardt.

In addition, Hendrick said Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolets would now be built in the same shop as Johnson's No. 48 cars, while Gordon's No. 24 Chevys would be built in the same shop as Martin's No. 5 cars. Previously, Gordon and Johnson shared the same building.

Chad Knaus remains Johnson's crew chief.

"We had a championship season but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams," owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement from his Concord, N.C., headquarters.

Gordon was the only Hendrick driver besides Johnson to qualify for this year's 12-driver Chase for the Cup title playoff, and Gordon finished ninth in the standings with 11 top-five finishes but no wins. Gordon has gone 65 races without a victory.

Martin, who will go into the last year of his contract with Hendrick next year, finished 13th in points and has gone 45 races without a win.

And Earnhardt, perhaps NASCAR's most popular driver, has struggled for more than two years. He finished 21st in the standings this season, had only three top-five finishes and is on a 93-race winless streak.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, talks with team owner Rick Hendrick before the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., on Sept. 5. Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images

NASCAR's title Chase gets tighter as Carl Edwards wins at Phoenix

Edwards
Denny Hamlin
saw a win -- and possibly a lock on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship -- slip away Sunday when he was forced to make a late fuel stop and Carl Edwards won the race at Phoenix International Raceway.

The result is that NASCAR's Chase for the Cup title playoff tightened even further, with Hamlin now leading Johnson by only 15 points and third-place Kevin Harvick by 46 points heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida next weekend.

"It's pretty disappointing," a somber Hamlin said after the race. "I was sitting pretty."

Hamlin, who started Sunday's race with a 33-point lead over Johnson, dominated most of the Kobalt Tools 500, leading 190 of its 312 laps. But with 14 laps left, Hamlin was forced to pit his No. 11 Toyota for fuel, while Johnson and Harvick conserved enough fuel to stay on the track and finish.

So did Edwards, who went on to end a 70-race winless streak in the Cup series. Edwards, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing, also won Saturday's race at the one-mile PIR oval in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series.

--Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

Photo: NASCAR driver Carl Edwards pits his No. 99 Ford on his way to winning the Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

 

NASCAR's Hendrick team leaves pit-crew swap in place for Jimmie Johnson

Johnson

Hendrick Motorsports' startling mid-race decision to swap Jimmie Johnson's pit crew with Jeff Gordon's will be left in place for the final two races of the season.

Hendrick said Monday that Johnson, seeking an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship but now 33 points behind Sunday's winner and point leader Denny Hamlin, will use Gordon's crew at Phoenix Internationational Raceway on Sunday and at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida the following week.

Johnson finished ninth Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway after his regular pit crew struggled with tire changes early in the Sprint Cup Series race. After Gordon's car later was knocked out of the race in a crash, Johnson's crew was benched in favor of Gordon's crew.

Multi-car teams previously have swapped pit crews in between races -- last month, for instance, Richard Childress Racing gave Clint Bowyer's crew to teammate Kevin Harvick -- but the Hendick switch in the middle of a race was highly unusual. Harvick is third in the Chase for the Cup title playoff, 59 points behind Hamlin.

Some NASCAR watchers wondered what effect the Texas switch would have on the morale of Johnson's crew at the Phoenix race, but Hendrick's decision to leave the change in place appears to circumvent that potential problem.

Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, defended the move after the race, noting that in-game substitutions are common in many other sports. "We needed to do something" to keep Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet in contention for the title, Knaus said.

Johnson agreed. "You watch pro sports and if people aren't getting the job done you've got to pull them out and put someone else in," the El Cajon native said. "I really do care for these guys with the bottom of my heart. They're my guys. But, man, we have to perform."

--Jim Peltz

Photo: Jeff Gordon's pit crew services Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet after Johnson's crew was benched in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on Sunday. Credit: LM Otero/Associated Press

Good day for Stewart, Johnson; bad day for Roush Fenway Racing

 

Tony Stewart won for the first time in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson extended his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Three drivers from Roush Fenway Racing all but fell out of contention in the Chase standings, though. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle finished 30th or worse in the NASCAR race in Fontana, the fourth race in the 10-race Chase.

Go to Haddock in the Paddock for more on the Cup race from Fontana.

-- Tim Haddock

Jamie McMurray wins pole in Fontana for NASCAR's fourth Chase race

Jamie McMurray Jamie McMurray won the pole position for the Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway, the fourth race in NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Cup championship playoff.

McMurray, this year's Daytona 500 winner, turned a lap of 185.285 mph Friday at the two-mile oval track in Fontana. Elliott Sadler qualified second at 184.407 mph and will start alongside McMurray on the front row Sunday.

Neither driver is among the 12 who are competing for the Cup title in this year's Chase.

"I worked really hard for my lap," said McMurray, who drives the No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. "The track has a lot of speed in it, but it’s also really slick and even in qualifying with brand new tires, it’s really a handful."

Jimmie Johnson, who is seeking a record fifth consecutive Cup title and leads this year's Chase by eight points over Denny Hamlin, qualified eighth. Hamlin qualified poorly and will start 34th on the 43-car grid. Johnson has won four of the last six races at Fontana.

Elsewhere in the field, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified ninth, Mark Martin was 11th, Kyle Busch will start 16th, Jeff Gordon was 17th and Tony Stewart qualified 22nd.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Jamie McMurray climbs from his car Friday after his qualifying run for the Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images

Exclusive: Joe Gibbs talks about the differences between Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch

2010 Kansas Oct NSCS practice Kyle Busch Jimmie Johnson NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs has two drivers in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Denny Hamlin is second in the Chase standings, eight points behind four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kyle Busch is in seventh place in Chase standings, 80 points out of first.

The fourth race in the Chase is Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

Go to Haddock in the Paddock for an exclusive interview with Gibbs, who talked about how Hamlin and Busch have different styles of racing.

-- Tim Haddock

Photo: NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson talk in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 2. Credit: Rusty Jarrett / Getty Images for NASCAR

 

NASCAR's Kevin Harvick sees benefit in Fontana track losing one race

NASCAR's decision to drop one of its two annual Sprint Cup Series races in Southern California should benefit crowd sizes for the region's remaining race, series title contender Kevin Harvick said Friday. Harvick

Stock-car racing's sanctioning body announced in August that Auto Club Speedway, the two-mile oval track in Fontana, would host only one race next season, on March 27.

The speedway has held two Cup races a year since 2004, and NASCAR made the change after crowds at the 92,000-seat speedway had dropped to 70,000 to 80,000 in recent years. Many other tracks on NASCAR's schedule also have seen significant declines in attendance amid the poor economy.

The series returns to Fontana next weekend for the fourth race in NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Cup championship playoff.

"What's best for the sport is full grandstands, and they always had good crowds when they had one race [in Fontana] and I think they'll have a good crowd for one race" going forward, Harvick told reporters at Kansas Speedway, site of the third Chase race this Sunday.

"When people watch on TV and the grandstands are full then they want to be there too," said Harvick, the Bakersfield native who drives the No. 29 Chevrolet and currently is fifth in the Chase, 65 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

Johnson Jimmie Johnson, the El Cajon native seeking an unprecedented fifth consecutive Cup championship, is second in the standings, 35 points behind Hamlin,  after winning last weekend in Dover, Del.

But Harvick maintained that the Chase remained "wide open," according to a transcript released by Team Chevy. "I don't think there's any clear-cut favorite." And Harvick, who narrowly lost to Johnson at Fontana in the race there last February, said "we're really looking forward to going back" to Southern California.

"We need to capitalize over the next couple of weeks on making something happen," Harvick said.

-- Jim Peltz

Photos: Top, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick before practice Friday for the Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire. Bottom, Jimmie Johnson during practice Friday at Kansas Speedway. Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images

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