Landon Cassill

NASCAR: Ross Chastain moving up to XFINITY Series with JD Motorsports

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After making seven XFINITY Series starts in 2014, Ross Chastain has landed a full-time 2015 drive in NASCAR’s No. 2 national series with JD Motorsports.

Chastain will drive the No. 4 Chevrolet Camaro with support from Watermelon.org and the National Watermelon Association.

His connection with the refreshing fruit goes beyond sponsorship, as the 22-year-old Floridian was born and then grew up working on a farm that’s heavily involved in the watermelon industry.

“It’s great to be involved with Watermelon.org, and we want to take them along for a great ride this year,” Chastain said in a team release. “I’m looking forward to working with [team owner] Johnny [Davis] and his guys and making a mark this year in [the XFINITY Series].

“Ross has an amazing level of experience for a young driver,” Davis said. “He brings a lot to our team. We’re looking forward to seeing how far we can go this year with his input and the support of Watermelon.org and the National Watermelon Association. It’s going to be a big year.”

Chastain will team up with Sprint Cup veteran Landon Cassill in JD’s No. 01 Chevrolet and Harrison Rhodes in a third, as-of-now-unnumbered car.

Last season, Chastain’s best finish in the XFINITY Series was a 10th-place showing at Kentucky in the fall. He also made three starts in the Camping World Truck Series, where he ran the full schedule in 2012 (one Top-5, four Top-10s) and the majority of events in 2013 (four Top-5s, seven Top-10s in 14 starts).

Jimmie Johnson takes a wrong turn, loses track position in first half-triathlon

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Jimmie Johnson knows how to get around racetracks. But when it comes to a half-triathlon, he could use a map or GPS to keep him pointed in the right direction.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion took part in a half-triathlon on Saturday in Naples, Florida. Also competing were fellow NASCAR drivers Josh Wise and Landon Cassill.

While Wise and Cassill kept it on the straight and narrow, such was not the case for Johnson.

He made a wrong turn and got lost for a short while.

Oh boy, did he ever get lost.

Things went well in the swimming (1.2 miles) and the 13.1-mile running competition for Johnson.

But when it came to the 56-mile bike ride, Johnson went off-course – missing the first turn, no less, and then pedaled over a mile in the wrong direction (and then had to retrace his steps for yet another mile-plus) – to the tune of an extra 2.3 miles.

All told, Johnson covered the entire 70 miles – well, in his case, 72.3 miles – in four hours, 42 minutes.

“I was hoping to do 4 (hours), 30 (minutes),” Johnson told the Naples (Fla.) News. “Without those extra couple of miles, I think I would have been there.”

To his credit, even with the extra mileage he tacked on, Johnson still finished 15th among all the male competitors. It was the first half-triathlon that Johnson has ever completed.

How’s Johnson feeling today, one day later?

As for Wise, he won his age group at 4:26.34, also good for sixth overall. Cassill was first in his age group at 4:30.13, and ninth overall.

Johnson, who hopes to eventually run a full triathlon in the future, was asked what the overall experience was like.

“It was a long and lonely 70 miles,” Johnson told the Naples News.

Well, 72.3 miles, to be precise.

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Keselowski earns pole for final Nationwide Series race at Homestead

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Brad Keselowski originally was not scheduled to compete in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 season-ending NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Joey Logano was originally slated to run the Team Penske No. 22 Ford, but with his focus on winning Sunday’s Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Keselowski was a late replacement.

Even though he was thrown into it, Keselowski obviously didn’t mind. One week after winning the NNS race at Phoenix, Keselowski came back to earn the pole position for Saturday’s NNS race at Homestead.

Keselowski paced the field with a speed of 166.384 mph. It was his fifth NNS pole of the season and 19th of his career. Keselowski has five wins from the pole in that career, as well, including once at HMS.

“I honestly didn’t expect to get the pole,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “My teammate, Ryan Blaney, was really fast the first two sessions.

“But we were able to just find a little extra speed, I got her dialed in and it’s going to be starting on the pole.”

Twice before, Penske Racing has earned the NNS pole at HMS and gone on to victory. Keselowski is gunning to make it three.

“I’d love to add a three to that, so hopefully we can get three wins,” Keselowski said.

Whether Keselowski or another driver wins the race, it will be historic: Saturday’s event will be the final race ever run under the Nationwide Series banner. The series will be rebranded to the Xfinity Series beginning in 2015.

Kyle Larson qualified second (166.353 mph), followed by Matt Kenseth (166.006), Elliott Sadler (165.827), Ryan Blaney (165.756), Kyle Busch (165.685), Brian Scott (165.269), Brendan Gaughan (165.158), Dylan Kwasniewski (164.870), Chris Buescher (164.224), Ryan Reed (163.969) and Josh Berry (162.660).

“We just missed it barely there at the end,” Larson said. “Hopefully, we can have a little better finish than we had last night. We came up just one spot short.”

Larson finished second to Darrell “Bubba” Wallace in Friday night’s Truck Series season finale.

There were a few surprises along the way, as well:

* Chase Elliott, who clinched the Nationwide Series championship last week at Phoenix, had issues with control on his Chevrolet, ultimately being unable to qualify any higher than 14th.

* Regan Smith, who had been Elliott’s chief chaser during the championship battle, also had issues, qualifying 15th. And Ty Dillon also had control issues, qualifying 21st.

Row 1: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson
Row 2: Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler
Row 3: Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch
Row 4: Brian Scott, Brendan Gaughan
Row 5: Dylan Kwasniewski, Chris Buescher
Row 6: Ryan Reed, Josh Berry
Row 7: Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott
Row 8: Regan Smith, Corey Lajoie
Row 9: JJ Yeley, Mike Bliss
Row 10: Dakoda Armstrong, Jeremy Clements
Row 11: Ty Dillon, Blake Koch
Row 12: Landon Cassill, James Buescher
Row 13: Ross Chastain, John Wes Townley
Row 14: Eric McClure, Jeffrey Earnhardt
Row 15: David Starr, TJ Bell
Row 16: Paul Menard, Ryan Sieg
Row 17: Ryan Preece, Jeff Green
Row 18: Jake Crum, Tanner Berryhill
Row 19: Matt DiBenedetto, Kevin Lepage
Row 20: Milka Duno, Carlos Contreras

Did not qualify: Derrike Cope, Joey Gase, Ryan Ellis, Johnny Jackson, Martin Roy.

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Jeff Gordon wins 200th pole for Hendrick; Harvick qualifies 5th, leads Champ. 4

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A fifth Sprint Cup championship may not be in the cards for Jeff Gordon this year, but he’s secured one more bit of history for his team.

Gordon captured the 200th Sprint Cup pole position in Hendrick Motorsports history tonight at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a final round lap of 180.747 mph. He and Kurt Busch will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday in the Ford Ecoboost 400.

Last week at Phoenix, Gordon was eliminated from the Chase following Ryan Newman’s last-lap shove of Kyle Larson for 11th place.

That move gave Newman the last spot in the Championship 4 by one point over Gordon, but the former Rainbow Warrior is now zeroing in on finishing the season strong.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been on the pole here, number one, and to get the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports is very cool,” Gordon told ESPN. “I think the way we’re looking at this weekend is we want to finish the season off the absolute best that we can. It’s been a tremendous season for us. This 24 team has been incredible this year.

“We’re disappointed we’re not in this thing for the championship, but that’s not gonna stop us from trying to go out and win the race.”

Meanwhile, the Championship 4 had mixed fortunes in qualifying. Kevin Harvick led the quartet by qualifying fifth, while former teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano will start eighth and ninth respectively. But the winless Newman will have to rally from 21st.

Harvick said that driveability was now the main focus for him leading into Sunday’s title decider.

“This is going to be a race where you go through some changing conditions,” he said. “Today was really just about trying to get a solid starting spot and we were able to do that with our Budweiser team.”

As for Hamlin, he said that his long-run speed helped him be able to make it to the final round.

“To have an extra cycle on our tires and still be that close is very encouraging,” he said. “It’s been a great day so far…The car’s feeling really good, so we’ll see what we got.”

Logano was able to make a big improvement from his mid-pack showing in today’s afternoon practice, something that he was grateful for.

“It’s a good recovery from where we were in practice,” he said. “We’ve just got to try and keep speed in the car a little longer in qualifying but we have all off-season to figure that part out. We’ll try to figure out the race now.”

Newman said that a tight condition going into the corner hampered him, but that he wasn’t worried about his qualifying result.

“A buddy of mine once said, ‘It’s not where you start, it’s where you stop,'” he said. “We’ve got half of ’em beat to start. We’ll keep digging with the Caterpillar Chevrolet.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami – Ford Ecoboost 400
Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Race
Qualifying Results

1. 24-Jeff Gordon
2. 41-Kurt Busch
3. 20-Matt Kenseth
4. 2-Brad Keselowski
5. 4-Kevin Harvick
6. 15-Clint Bowyer
7. 18-Kyle Busch
8. 11-Denny Hamlin
9. 22-Joey Logano
10. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
11. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
12. 48-Jimmie Johnson
13. 55-Brian Vickers
14. 51-Justin Allgaier
15. 99-Carl Edwards
16. 27-Paul Menard
17. 9-Marcos Ambrose
18. 43-Aric Almirola
19. 1-Jamie McMurray
20. 16-Greg Biffle
21. 31-Ryan Newman
22. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. 5-Kasey Kahne
24. 3-Austin Dillon
25. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
26. 21-Trevor Bayne
27. 42-Kyle Larson
28. 14-Tony Stewart
29. 13-Casey Mears
30. 33-Brian Scott
31. 34-David Ragan
32. 10-Danica Patrick
33. 40-Landon Cassill
34. 83-J.J. Yeley
35. 38-David Gilliland
36. 36-Reed Sorenson
37. 98-Josh Wise
38. 95-Michael McDowell
39. 7-Michael Annett
40. 32-Blake Koch
41. 23-Alex Bowman
42. 26-Cole Whitt
43. 66-Brett Moffitt

Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix; Hamlin, Logano, Newman join him in Sprint Cup Championship Race

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When he needed to do it the most, Kevin Harvick once again shined the brightest under the Arizona sun.

Long a master of the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway, Harvick delivered a dominant performance (led 264 of 312 laps) in today’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Eliminator Round finale to win for the sixth time at PIR and capture an automatic berth into next week’s Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I could tell that we were probably gonna have to win, because everybody was running up in the front of the pack, [everybody] that we were racing against,” Harvick told ESPN. “That was our goal coming in here, and really, that’s the goal every time we come here to Phoenix. This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for the team this year.

“…I think this says a lot about our team. I think we’ve been through a lot this year. They put our backs against the wall, but we put it in Victory Lane. And we get to go on.”

From the moment Harvick took the lead at Lap 44, it was evident that nobody was going to beat him and that the three remaining spots in the Championship Race were going to be left to points.

Eventually, those three spots went to Denny Hamlin (finished fifth), Joey Logano (finished sixth), and Ryan Newman (finished 11th). And all of them had to go through their share of obstacles in order to survive.

Both Hamlin and Logano suffered setbacks on pit road (Hamlin an early flat tire, Logano a penalty for removing the gas can from the pits) that caused them to fall one lap down. But mid-race cautions enabled them both to get the free pass to return to the lead lap, and they were able to claw their way back into positions to advance.

As for Newman, he entered the Championship in even more dramatic fashion. After falling back to 12th with just a handful of laps to go, Newman was set to lose out on the final spot via tiebreaker to Jeff Gordon.

But on the final lap, Newman was able to get side-by-side with Kyle Larson in Turn 4. Contact between the two sent Larson into the wall and Newman earned the 11th-place position that allowed him to make the cut by just one point over Gordon.

“In the end, we fought back hard,” Newman said. “Did what we had to, as clean as I possibly could – I wasn’t proud of [the contact with Larson], but I’ll do what I’ve got to do to make it to the next round…I think if [Larson] was in my position, he would’ve done the same thing.”

Meanwhile, Gordon’s drive for a fifth Cup championship – his first since 2001 – came to a close in agonizing fashion.

“We’ve got a lot to hold our heads up high about,” he said. “The way that we raced this race and the whole Chase and the whole season. We raced hard, we raced together as a team.”

While praising his team for its efforts, Gordon couldn’t resist taking an apparent shot at Brad Keselowski, who was involved with Gordon in last weekend’s post-race fight at Texas Motor Speedway and also failed to make the final battle at Homestead.

“I hope we taught somebody that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best, and that you don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship,” he added.

Gordon finished second to Harvick in the race, with Matt Kenseth and Keselowski following him in third and fourth. And yet all three of them, plus 15th-place finisher Carl Edwards, will only be racing for pride next weekend in South Florida.

But for Harvick, Hamlin, Logano, and Newman, they’ll all have the chance to race for their first Sprint Cup title.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT PHOENIX
Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (Eliminator Round Finale)
Unofficial Results

1. 4-Kevin Harvick, led 264 laps
2. 24-Jeff Gordon
3. 20-Matt Kenseth
4. 2-Brad Keselowski
5. 11-Denny Hamlin, led 24 laps
6. 22-Joey Logano, led 17 laps
7. 41-Kurt Busch
8. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 4 laps
9. 16-Greg Biffle
10. 9-Marcos Ambrose
11. 31-Ryan Newman
12. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
13. 42-Kyle Larson
14. 1-Jamie McMurray
15. 99-Carl Edwards
16. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
17. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
18. 43-Aric Almirola
19. 55-Brian Vickers
20. 14-Tony Stewart
21. 5-Kasey Kahne
22. 10-Danica Patrick
23. 27-Paul Menard
24. 38-David Gilliland
25. 34-David Ragan, led 2 laps
26. 7-Michael Annett, led 1 lap
27. 33-Ty Dillon
28. 36-Reed Sorenson
29. 40-Landon Cassill
30. 83-J.J. Yeley
31. 95-Michael McDowell
32. 23-Alex Bowman
33. 32-Joey Gase
34. 18-Kyle Busch
35. 13-Casey Mears
36. 66-Mike Wallace
37. 51-Justin Allgaier
38. 3-Austin Dillon
39. 48-Jimmie Johnson, Lap 235, Accident
40. 15-Clint Bowyer, Lap 211, Accident
41. 98-Josh Wise, Lap 204, Accident
42. 26-Cole Whitt, Lap 147, Accident
43. 37-Mike Bliss, Lap 16, Brakes

NASCAR CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP
Eliminator Round – Final Standings
Top 4 Drivers Advance to Sprint Cup Championship Race
1. Kevin Harvick – ADV
2. Denny Hamlin, +10 points
3. Joey Logano, +9 points
4. Ryan Newman, +1 point

5. Jeff Gordon, -1 point
6. Matt Kenseth, -3 points
7. Brad Keselowski, -8 points
8. Carl Edwards, -15 points