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Busch-Gibson Combo Morphing Into Championship Contenders

Many predicted this. Dating all the way back to his championship season of 2004, Richmond winner Kurt Busch had excelled with a crew chief who could be defined as “old school” – one who made decisions with a healthy mix of modern engineering smarts and plain old gut. Kurt Busch Tony Gibson
Busch won his title with a professor in old school ideals – Jimmy Fennig – calling the shots. Now, 11 years later, Tony Gibson — himself a ‘racer’s crew chief’ – takes his perch atop Busch’s pit box. And the resulting success is astounding.
Since Gibson joined the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team with three races remaining in the 2014 season, Busch has rattled off some of the best numbers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Here are a few, and their relation to the competition (Note: Due to his suspension to open the 2015 season, Busch’s stats span nine races, compared to 12 for other drivers)…
–          His average finish with Gibson is 8.7, which ranks second only to Kevin Harvick’s 5.2
–          Busch’s driver rating with Gibson is 111.8, second to Harvick’s 130.6.
–          His average running position is 7.0, second to Harvick’s 4.5
–          Despite three fewer races, he ranks fourth in fastest laps run (217) and second in laps led (536)

Gordon Building Top 10 Streak

After a tumultuous start to his farewell season, Jeff Gordon has strung together a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes. The run has vaulted him from a season low points position of 36th after race No. 2 at Atlanta to his current position of 10th. jeff-gordon
He has a long way to go to reach his personal best for consecutive top 10s, however. That mark, set over the course of the 1998-99 seasons, was 21. Gordon closed out his championship winning 1998 season with 20 consecutive top 10s (19 of which were top fives).
It’s fair to expect a seventh consecutive top 10 this weekend at Talladega. He’s the all-time winner at restrictor plate races, and leads all active drivers with 19 top 10s at the series’ largest track.

Moving On Up: Kahne And Johnson Turn Rough Starts Into Strong Finishes

Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson produced uncharacteristic qualifying efforts at Richmond over the weekend, earning starting spots of 40th and 36th, respectively. In Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers outplayed the hands they were dealt. Kahne moved up a race-high 34 spots to finish sixth, while Johnson ascended 33 positions to register a third-place showing. Turning weak starts into strong finishes has been a pattern for Johnson this season. He won at Atlanta after starting the race 37th and finished second at Bristol following a qualifying effort of 28th. Khane & Johnson

McMurray Closing In On First Chase Appearance

Going into the season, much of the spotlight focused on Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson. It has been Jamie McMurray though, who has shined for the two-car team through the first nine races. McMurray placed fourth at Richmond for his fourth top-10 finish of the season and looked like the only driver who could challenge Kurt Busch for the victory with his abundance of long-run speed. Jamie McMurray
McMurray is known for winning big races (Daytona 500, 2010; Brickyard 400, 2010; NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, 2014), but has never earned a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth in his 12 previous full-time NSCS seasons. The No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet driver seems poised to make his first appearance in NASCAR’s playoffs this year with high finishes of second (Phoenix), fourth (Richmond) and sixth (Texas). A win at Talladega – the site of his last victory (Oct. 20, 2013) – would virtually qualify him for the Chase under the new “win and you’re in” format.
McMurray ranks ninth in the NSCS points standings.

Keeping Up With Keselowski: A Tough Task At Talladega

Brad Keselowski is no stranger to drama – in or out of the car.
Some of the best theater he’s provided has been with Talladega as his stage. 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bristol
Most recently, the No. 2 Team Penske Ford driver delivered arguably the most riveting performance of 2014 at Talladega last fall. Heading into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Contender Round cutoff race at the behemoth track, Keselowski could only advance to the Eliminator 8 Round with a win. He had every reason to be flustered following on-track fisticuffs with Matt Kenseth and heavy criticism the week before, but the razor-focused Keselowski took the lead on a green-white checkered restart and held off several challengers for a breath-taking victory.
It wasn’t his first rodeo either.
Keselowski won at Talladega in spring of his 2012 NSCS championship season. In another dramatic finish, “Bad Brad” pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history when he led only the last lap to park his Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in Victory Lane for his first career win (4/26/09).
Keselowski ranks fifth in the NSCS points standings on the basis of one win, three top fives and six top 10s.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished first at Talladega in four consecutive races, a time period lasting from Oct. 21, 2001 to April 6, 2003. He took a two-race sojourn from Victory Lane with runner-ups in both events until he won his fifth and latest Talladega race on Oct. 3, 2004. Cheez-It 355 - Practice
Ever since, as the great Ricky Bobby would say, Earnhardt’s “been last.”
Earnhardt has come close to winning Talladega over the last decade with runner-up finishes in spring of 2009 and fall of 2013. His statistics there are also still elite. The 12-time most popular driver claims the series-best average running position (14.5), the second-best driver rating (90.7) and the third- most quality passes (4,478). And, he’s led laps in 27 of his 30 Talladega starts.
For all of our fantasy readers, those numbers mean that the No. 88 Chevrolet driver is a solid pick this weekend.

History Lesson: Bill Elliott Celebrates 30th Anniversary of ‘Awesome’ Comeback

It is perhaps the greatest comeback in NASCAR history.
Despite having a fast car that led 25 early laps of the 1985 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott found himself five miles – almost two laps – down after an unscheduled pit stop. Bill Elliott
Elliott’s oil fitting line had broken, and the Lap 48 pit stop to repair it took more than a minute, about the same amount of time it took to make a lap around the 2.66-mile track.
Worry? Not “Awesome” Bill.  Elliott and his Harry Melling team were on a roll, having won three of the first eight races, including the season-opening Daytona 500.  With horsepower supplied by brother Ernie, and a fortuitous stretch of green flag racing, Elliott was able to pass the field twice in just under 100 laps.  His second pass of Cale Yarborough put him back in the lead on Lap 145 and propelled him to victory.
The win was significant beyond the amazing comeback.  R.J. Reynolds, which was then the series entitlement sponsor, had recently announced a cash bonus called the “Winston Million” for any driver that could win three of the sport’s four biggest races – the Daytona 500, Winston 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. 
Elliott had the first two legs under his belt with two chances at $1 million. After a poor (18th place) finish in the Coca-Cola 600, Elliott dominated the Southern 500, winning from the pole at Darlington for the second time that season. The million dollar win put Elliott in the national spotlight and landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Elliott recently recreated his famous Winston 500 win at Talladega, taking several laps in that same Ford Thunderbird.  Here is what he had to say:
“I will never forget that day in 1985. I remember coming down pit road and our guys dealing with the oil line issue. We went back out and ran wide open and I was totally shocked the motor lived all day long….totally shocked. We were a bunch of misfits put together, 12 of us total on the team, and that included the motor shop and the chassis shop. Most of the guys who pitted the car came in on weekends. We all had a good understanding of the race cars, though. It seems like it was yesterday. Bill Elliott 1985
“I about kissed everything good bye because I didn’t know what happened when it started missing there (and engine started smoking.) But, they raised the hood and got it fixed faster than I thought they would. It felt like I sat there six or 10 laps. I worked my tail off to try and keep up. I just kept on digging. This old car kept on digging. I want to thank the good Lord for making up those laps. The old car just held together and worked.” 
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