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NASCAR Driver Capsules, May 16

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: May 16 2013 09:17:19 AM CDT
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup stands, plus five additional drivers of note.

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the sixth straight week after Darlington. He leads second-ranked Carl Edwards by 44 points and third-ranked Matt Kenseth by 59 points.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 11 career starts, 3 wins, 7 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: first in 2003, 2006 and 2012 races. Finished first in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt for most All-Star wins, including last year's win. Johnson comes into the race with the third-best driver ranking of the field, behind Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch. Here's Johnson's thoughts on Saturday night's race, particularly with the $1 million bonus put up by track owner Bruton Smith to potentially go along with the $1 million prize for winning the All-Star Race: "It means a lot now, it's got a million more reasons if you are able to win all the segments. It's a huge payday. It's fun to race without points and that sets you up for a nice Memorial (Day) weekend and a good starting point with your race car."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson won last year's All-Star race to tie Jeff Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt for most wins in the exhibition event (three wins each). Johnson wound up winning $1,071,340 for the triumph.

ETC.: Johnson's average start in the All-Star Race is 9.1 and his average finish is an outstanding 6.6.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in second place for the third consecutive week after Darlington. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 44 points and is 15 points ahead of third-ranked Matt Kenseth.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 7 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2011. Finished 23rd (last) in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards went from winning the 2011 All-Star Race to dead last (23rd) in the 2012 event after suffering engine problems after just 25 laps. It was a bitter disappointment in a season that mirrored that disappointment. In a sense, everything that went good for Edwards in 2011, when he missed winning the Cup championship by a tie-breaker, went totally bad in 2012. Given the bounce back he's made in the standings this season, look for Edwards to have a big race Saturday night.

LOOKING BACK: Edwards came into last year's All-Star Race thinking he'd have a great race, coming in very optimistic. Unfortunately, his day ended just over a fourth of the way through when his engine suffered failure, ending his race after just 25 of the scheduled 90 laps.

ETC.: Edwards career average starting spot in the All-Star Race is 13.0 and average finish is 11.3.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After having most of the points he had lost due to penalty after his controversial win at Kansas reinstated upon appeal last week, Kenseth moved up one spot in the standings, from fourth to third after Darlington. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 59 points, is 15 points behind second-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fourth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by five points.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 win, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in 2004. Finished 3rd in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has been one of the hottest drivers during the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup season, including a series-leading three wins, most recently this past Saturday at Darlington. He comes into this Saturday's All-Star Race looking for not only the win, but also to win all five segments to collect the $1 million bonus put up by track owner Bruton Smith. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on the success he and his team have enjoyed thus far this season: "I think the goal of a race team and an organization is to never peak. I think it's to continue to keep getting better. That's one thing I've seen over there pretty much from day one. They're not standing still. They're always trying to build a better car. TRD (Toyota Racing Development) is trying to build a better engine. We're always trying to do that -- working on the future. I think that's how racing is. No, I don't have any concern. I really feel like with this team, driving this car, I feel like the sky's the limit. This stuff has been incredibly fast. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I have a special bond right away -- with the whole team. Gosh, I couldn't feel much better about our year so far."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had a strong run in last year's race, finishing third. He challenged for the lead, but Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski finished ahead of him.

ETC.: Kenseth's career average starting spot in the All-Star Race is 9.3 and average finish is an outstanding 6.3.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped one spot, from third to fourth, after Darlington. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 64 points, is 5 points behind third-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fifth-ranked Clint Bowyer by 10 points.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 13 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-fives, 10 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2000. Finished fifth in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: It's been 13 years since Earnhardt won the All-Star Race (then known as The Winston), in his first try at it, no less, in 2000. While he's done well since, with a total of 10 top-10 finishes in 13 career starts, he's never been able to repeat that win from 2000. Could Saturday finally be the year he does so? "The All-Star weekend is a great weekend," Earnhardt said. "It's just a lot of fun. It's just an awesome race. It's got a lot of great stories and a lot of history. We'd like to be a part of that this weekend and win the race, so we're going to work really hard. I'm looking forward to getting in the car and seeing what kind of speed we've got and what kind of race car we've got."

LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had a strong car in last year's race and challenged for the win. Unfortunately, the triumph went to teammate Jimmie Johnson, while Earnhardt finished fifth.

ETC.: Earnhardt's average career start in the All-Star Race is 14.2 and his average finish is an excellent 8.4.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in fifth place for the second straight week after Darlington (and after most of Matt Kenseth's points were returned to him on appeal). Bowyer is 74 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, trails fourth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10 points and leads sixth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 23 points.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 4 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 12th in 2009. Was 14th in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has struggled in all four of his previous appearances in the All-Star Race, something he hopes to change this Saturday. Said Bowyer, "The Sprint All-Star race is such a great event for everyone involved - it normally brings out great racing, tempers and a mad dash to the finish. It's different than the races each weekend in about every way. You have to win a race to get invited. It's a pure money event - points don't mean a thing. The format changes a little each year, but the only thing you have to remember is the guy that finishes first in the last 10 laps segment is walking home with a lot of cash. And I love cash! And so do all the other guys and we'll do about anything we can to get to that finish line first. There is over $1 million on the line - and two million if you win every segment. It is going to be crazy from start to finish. It's going to be one heck of a show for the fans and I hope to be standing there with a mountain of cash at the end."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer was 14th in last year's race and never was really much of a threat.

ETC.: Bowyer is ranked an ignominious 18th of the 19 drivers in the All-Star Race field (not including the two drivers that will transfer from the Sprint Showdown or the one driver that wins the fans' vote), just ahead of Talladega winner David Ragan. Bowyer's career average start in the All-Star Race is 10.0 and average finish is 15.0.

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After Matt Kenseth's points were reinstated on appeal, Keselowski dropped one spot from fifth to sixth, which is where he remained after Darlington. Only now he's tied for sixth with Kasey Kahne, who moved up one spot and into a tie with Keselowski. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 97 points, fifth-ranked Clint Bowyer by 23 points and lead eighth-ranked Kyle Busch by one point.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 4 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 2 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2012. Finished second in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: While Keselowski has been competitive this season, he's not really had the kind of big splash that a defending Sprint Cup champion should have. He hasn't even won a race yet. That's why winning Saturday night's race is so important to him, with the potential of momentum that could carry over to the regular season points-paying races that are to follow. "The All-Star Race, to me, is one of the marquee races of the year, a chance to prove you're the best against the best. That race really sticks out and it pays a lot of money too. I think we have a good chance to win it."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski came so close to winning last year's All-Star Race, finishing second to winner Jimmie Johnson. However, while he wound up runner-up, Keselowski can somewhat point to his finish in last year's All-Star Race as part of the linchpin that launched him towards eventually winning the Sprint Cup championship at season's end.

ETC.: Keselowski's career average start in the All-Star Race is 13.0 and his average finish is 11.0.

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne climbed one spot, from seventh to a tie for sixth in the standings with Brad Keselowski. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 97 points, fifth-ranked Clint Bowyer by 23 points and lead eighth-ranked Kyle Busch by 1 point.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 9 career starts, 1 win, 1 top-five, 3 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished ninth in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he won in 2008, Kahne has not had an overall great record in the All-Star Race. He's looking forward to Saturday's race and had this to say: "One of my favorite (memories) was being voted into the All-Star Race by the fans in 2008 and going on to win the race. If it wasn't for the fans, I wouldn't have even made the race, so that victory was all about the fans."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne challenged for a while in last year's All-Star Race but faded near the end to an eventual ninth-place finish.

ETC.: Kahne has a career average start in the All-Star Race of 12.0 and an average finish of 12.3.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch climbed two spots, from 10th to eighth, after Darlington. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 98 points, is one point behind the sixth-place tie between Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne, and leads ninth-ranked Aric Almirola by eight points.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2011. Finished fourth in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: The All-Star Race has been frustrating for Busch over the years. He came so close in 2011, only to lose a tight finish to Carl Edwards. Busch wants an All-Star win bad, and Saturday night may just be his best opportunity yet. Here are Busch's thoughts on the race: "Being an all-star and being in the All-Star Race is one of the most fun things we get to do each year. ... It's an exciting night and there's a lot of energy there. Charlotte does a great job. I think it's an awesome venue for that race. ... You're giving it all you've got every single lap. You're definitely up on top of the wheel and your guys do the best they can to give you a good car."

LOOKING BACK: Busch ran near the front for most of last year's All-Star Race, but ultimately trailed off at the end to finish fourth to winner Jimmie Johnson.

ETC.: Busch's driver rating is No. 2 in the overall All-Star performance among this year's field. He has a career average start in the All-Star Race of 5.3 and an average finish of 12.4.

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Aric Almirola dropped one spot, from eighth to ninth, after Darlington. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 106 points, is 8 points behind eighth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads 10th-ranked Kevin Harvick by two points.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 0 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Has never been in the All-Star Race, but finished seventh in his only appearance in the Sprint Showdown (last season). Almirola is hoping to be one of the top-2 drivers (along with the fan vote winner) in Saturday night's Showdown to transfer into the All-Star Race main event later that same night.

LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola started fifth and finished seventh in last year's Sprint Showdown, the preliminary qualifying event for the Sprint All-Star Race. He'll again try to race his way into this year's All-Star Race via the Showdown. Almirola is very confident he can do it, particularly given the great start to the season he's had thus far. Here are his thoughts on Saturday: "I'm really excited for All-Star weekend. Our team, both the 43 and 9 (Marcus Ambrose), have been fast at Charlotte. We had an all RPM front row last spring. We tested there in January and were the fastest car, so I have a lot of confidence that we will be fast this weekend. Our mile-and-a-half program has been strong since Todd (Parrott) and I teamed up last season. Our goal is to win the Sprint Showdown and race for the win in the All-Star Race."

LOOKING BEHIND: Almirola has competed in just one Sprint Showdown. He started fifth and finished seventh in last year's Showdown and did not transfer into the All-Star Race main event.

ETC.: Almirola is still looking for his first career start in the All-Star Race. His average start in the preliminary event, the Sprint Showdown, is fifth, while his average finish is seventh, both of those marks coming in last year's Showdown.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick climbed two spots and back into the top-10 from 12th after Darlington, tied with Paul Menard. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 108 points, is 2 points behind ninth-ranked Aric Almirola and lead the 12th-ranked tied pair of Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle by four points each.

ALL-STAR RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish in All-Star Race: First in 2007. Finished sixth in last year's race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick considers the All-Star Race one of his favorite races. And the incentive is ratcheted up this year with a potential $1 million bonus on top of the $1 million prize for first place. Here's Harvick's thoughts on Saturday's race: "Anytime they put that much money in front of anybody it's going to cause things to rise to another level. Take the points away from that and you really have some unique scenarios that come up. I think adding the bonus for winning all five segments is really going to add a twist to the event as well, especially for the driver who wins the first segment. They're going to be giving it all they have to try and win the remaining segments to collect the additional $1 million bonus. It's always fun when you know there is really nothing on the line but to win. If you do, then usually there is a big check waiting for you at the end so that gives you some bragging rights and a lot of money."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick had a strong car in last year's All-Star Race but couldn't catch frontrunners Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth at the end, ultimately finishing sixth.

ETC.: Harvick's average start in the All-Star Race is 8.6 and average finish is 10.5

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Tied for 10th. Lost two spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Finished 16th a year ago in his only appearance in the special event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard must finish in the top two in the Sprint Showdown to qualify for the All-Star Race. "The great thing about this weekend is there are no points on the line," said Menard. "We can just go out there, race hard and have fun. It's a fun night also because with the race being in Charlotte, a lot of the crew guys can have their families come out and watch. Hopefully we can put on a good show for them."

LOOKING BACK: Menard finished 19th at Darlington. "It was a tough night for the 27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards crew," said Menard. "We struggled with handling issues for the majority of the day, and I put us behind late with a pit-road penalty. Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) made adjustments all night, and we were able to catch a break at the end with those caution flags. But we didn't get the finish we thought we would when the night began."

ETC.: Menard knows the key to running well in the Showdown is "start up front and stay up front. You don't have a lot of time to get to the front if you don't qualify well." The race consists of two 20-lap segments. Teams can elect to pit after the first segment or can decide to stay out as Dale Earnhardt Jr. did a year ago in leading all 40 laps.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only four points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Three wins and nine top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 19 starts. His three wins ties him for the top spot in this special event.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon points out "The All-Star race is kind of a 'win-or-nothing scenario, and that's not the case on other race weekends. I've always approached it being as aggressive as I possibly can. We push hard trying to win every race, and this weekend is no different. The only difference is there are no points on the line. I really enjoy this event and I love the energy from the crowd. Those last 10 laps should be exciting for them. And us."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon made his 700th career start a special one as he finished third, his 300th top-five finish. Only three other drivers - Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison, all members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame - have accomplished this feat. "The last run was the best the car had been," said Gordon. "We got a good restart. Very happy - a great result for us. We had good pit stops, the last one being a great one. Great calls by Alan (Gustafson, crew chief), staying out when we needed to stay out, coming in when we needed to come in. Just a great battle by this team."

ETC.: Gordon has decided to sell his New York condo. According to the New York Times, Gordon's Central Park condo is "an inventively embellished three-bedroom condominium at the reigning superstar of Manhattan's trophy residences." Gordon brought the condo in 2007 for $9.67 million. Gordon listed the condo at $30 million after his neighbors sold their condo for $32.5 million in December.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, only four points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Three top-10 finishes including a second in 2008 in nine starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said he is "looking forward to the All-Star race" for several reasons. "We've struggled some this year, so it will be nice to have a non-points race and try to learn some things for the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend," added Biffle. "Charlotte has been good to us in the past and a win would help us gain momentum going into this summer stretch."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle finished 13th at Darlington. "It's a little disappointing," said Biffle. "I know it's different being out front. The car will drive a lot different, but we still don't have the grip we need. We're missing it ever since the season started with this (new Gen-6) car. We've got to figure it out. We've tested and practiced and are still struggling, so it's something you can't really fix on a pit stop. We'll just have to keep working and try to figure it out."

ETC.: Crew chief Matt Puccia said "the All-Star race is a fun non-points race where you can let it all hang out and take some chances. But you can also learn some things to apply to the 600. It's just a fun weekend where you can do some gambling and maybe hit on something that will be a big help the following week."

56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 14 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in four starts including a second in 2010.

LOOKING AHEAD: Truex really likes the new format for the All-Star race. "I think you're going to see all-out racing all night long, which is a great thing," said Truex before adding, "Obviously, we hope to be a part of that." To accomplish that goal, Truex must finish in the top two in the Sprint Showdown or win the fans' vote. Truex won the Showdown in 2007 and 2010.

LOOKING BACK: Truex ran in the top 10 during the first half of the race, but ran into handling problems during the late portions of the event as he finished 12th. "I am disappointed," said Truex. "I don't know how we missed it tonight. I really thought we were going to have a shot at the win. It didn't work out. We'll regroup and get ready for Charlotte race weeks."

ETC.: Michael Waltrip Racing has decided to move its annual Fan Fest to October. The event at MWR's headquarters has traditionally been held in May, but the race shop is undergoing some capital improvements to future enhance the visitor and employee experience. The organization began construction of a new 7,500-square-foot training facility earlier this month. "We can't wait to showcase our upgrades," said Waltrip.

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 20 points out of the top 10.

ALL-STAR RECORD: One top-10 finish in six starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray is another driver that needs to finish in the top two in the Sprint Showdown to qualify for the All-Star race. But he also is looking at the Showdown "as a bit of test for our team for the 600 the following week. That's not to say we aren't going to race hard and try to make the transfer to the 'main event.' We just feel we can accomplish a lot of goals in the Showdown."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray rallied in the final 60 laps to finish 16th at Darlington. "We had a tough time with the handling of the car tonight," said McMurray. "I wish we could have seen a few more cautions earlier to make adjustments on the car, but our guys worked hard on this McDonald's Chevy and we caught a few breaks there in the end to get back on the lead lap and bring home a 16th-place finish."

ETC.: McMurray calls this weekend "a real fun one for the fans. The new format for the All-Star race is really going to add to their excitement. It is more of a winner-take-all deal than it has even been with a driver having a chance at winning an extra million dollars if he can sweep all five segments."

17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 33 points out of the top 10.

ALL-STAR RECORD: As a rookie on the Sprint Cup Series, Stenhouse will need to finish in the top two in the Sprint Showdown to qualify for the All-Star race or win the fan vote.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "I feel confident that we can race our number 17 Best Buy Ford into the All-Star race, but if not we have another chance by winning the fan vote. We tested at Charlotte earlier this season so I feel we learned a lot that will be beneficial to our organization the next two weekends."

LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 18th in his first Darlington race. "Well I earned my Darlington stripe," said Stenhouse. "Our Zest Ford was just too tight overall. We couldn't turn in the corner to give us the drive off (the corner) we needed. I'm very proud of the 17 team because we fought all day. We will take a solid 18th-place finish here at the track known as 'Too Tough to Tame'."

ETC.: Stenhouse and Danica Patrick, his girlfriend, are expected to be among the vote getters that will determine the final spot in the All-Star Race. Stenhouse is quick to take every opportunity to ask his fans to boost his chances of winning the last starting position. "If you haven't voted, go vote at BestBuy.com/Racing," said Stenhouse. "You can vote right up to Saturday."

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 39 points out of the top 10.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Won the race in his rookie season (2002). Overall has one win and seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts including two 10th-places finishes in the last two years.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "When push comes to shove in the All-Star Race, you do what you have to do to win. This race is about the glory and the big prize ($1,000,000). There are no points on the line, so the way I see it, you want to either win it or bring back the steering wheel in your hands, knowing you did everything you could to be the best of the best that night."

LOOKING BACK: As Newman said, "that was a really good comeback by our Quicken Loans team. Our race car was loose pretty much all night until that last run. Matt (Borland, crew chief) and the guys kept working on it. They didn't give up and we ended up with a top-10 finish (tenth). I'm really proud of how hard these guys battled tonight."

ETC.: Newman continues to express his unhappiness with cars becoming airborne, especially at Daytona and Talladega. "My issue has and always has been because I seem to be the reciprocate of what airborne disease we have in NASCAR," said Newman. "Either someone lands on me or I land on somebody. It's happened three times I think in the last eight or nine (restrictor-plate) races. We've proven it's not safe for the fans. I said that in part of my interview (at Talladega earlier this month). It's frustrating and I think I've voiced my frustration very fairly. I took a pretty high road."

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 53 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: One win and six top-10 finishes including an eighth last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "The Sprint All-Star race is always one of the highlights of the season. We feel confident that our 78 car could be the magic piece to take home the million bucks. You have to act like it's qualifying for those last 10 laps and you have to ignore the other cars on the track because you have to get all the speed you can get out of your car."

LOOKING BACK: After winning the pole at a record speed of 181.918 miles per hour at Darlington, Busch led 69 of the first 73 laps before running in major handling problems. "We were wicked free and could not keep up with the changing conditions of the track," said Busch after his 14th-place finish. "We made a number of chassis and air pressure adjustments but couldn't get the car hooked up." When asked how loose it was, Busch replied, "On a scale of one to 10, it's an 11. We let it slip away and that's disappointing. But we won the pole, led laps, ran up front for a good portion of the race and came away with a respectable finish." Busch has now led 108 laps in 11 races this season. Prior to the 2013 season, Furniture Row Racing had led a total of 48 laps in 199 races.

ETC.: Busch could race in this year's Indianapolis 500 after completing all three phases of the rookie orientation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week. But Busch said any thoughts of competing in the 500 are at least a year away. "I need to get more comfortable in the Indy Car because a day like today, I'm white-knuckled, my hands were tense and firm and that was only after 10 laps," said Busch following his test with Andretti Autosport. He ran 83 laps with a top lap of 218.210 miles per hour.

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 56 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Two top-eight finishes in two starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano has high hopes for this weekend. "The last few times we've been at Charlotte we've run good," said Logano. "And we've had a couple good runs in the last couple of All-Star races. So I feel good about Saturday night. This is a fun weekend without a lot of pressure. You just go out and try to win and not worry about the big picture (making the Chase for the Championship)."

LOOKING BACK: Logano ran into overheating problems late in the race and had to make several trips down pit road to cool the engine down enough where he could finish the race. As a result, he ended up 22nd. "It's frustrating because you know you have a car that is probably an eighth to tenth-place car based on the cars you are passing during the race," said Logano.

ETC.: Steve Reis will be acting crew chief again this weekend. Reis is filling in while Todd Gordon serves his suspension. Again this weekend Greg Erwin, who is Sam Hornish's crew chief on the Nationwide Series, will assist Reis on race day. "Everybody did a real good job at Darlington," said Logano. "They gave me a good car, we just have some bad luck or we could have had a good day."

31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 57 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton won the Sprint Showdown in 2003. He needs a repeat win on Saturday night if he wants to qualify for the All-Star Race. Yet Burton plans to go "big-picture racing" this weekend. "Obviously, we want to win the Sprint Showdown, qualify for the All-Star Race and win it too, but every practice session and qualifying run we make this weekend gives us the opportunity to learn more about our 1.5-mile program," said Burton.

LOOKING BACK: Burton finished 21st at Darlington. "That was a tough night for the 31 Caterpillar team," said Burton. "We definitely didn't get the rotation we wanted to in the middle of the turns which pretty much set the tone for the evening. These guys never gave up and we were able to play strategy and gain some positions in the end. But it wasn't the night we had hoped for."

ETC.: Burton said he does not race any differently in a non-points race than he does in regular Cup event. "I race the same way no matter what the situation is," said Burton. "Typically the rules have been set by how they (the other drivers) have raced me to this point. You have to be who you normally are. When you try to get out of character, I think it does more harm than good."

14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 62 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: One win and nine top-10 finishes including eight top-five's in 14 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said the All-Star race is "an event for the fans. But there's also a lot of bragging rights, too. Charlotte is an area where 95 percent of the Cup teams are based, so when you go there, you want to run well. You do it for the fans, but at the same time, you do it for your organization and your team. That's why the All-Star race is important."

LOOKING BACK: Stewart was running eighth on a restart with 59 laps to go, but he brushed the wall moments after the green flag was waved again. This led to a number of pit stops during the final 50 laps as he ended the night in 15th place. Late in the race, Stewart told his crew the car was feeling like a "soapy dishrag."

ETC.: While Stewart wants to win the All-Star race, he plans to use this weekend as a test session to figure out what the team is missing in its quest to run up front with the new Gen-6 car. Stewart has only one top-10 finish in the first 11 races of 2013. "The hard part is trying to figure out what you're missing when you're off," said Stewart. "That's the frustrating part."

42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 77 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Has finished 12th and 14th in his two starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya points out "It's been awhile since we've competed in the All-Star race so I'm hopeful we can race our way in during the Showdown. We tested at Charlotte earlier this year and our Target Chevy was really good so I think we have a legitimate shot of getting into the All-Star race and winning some money."

LOOKING BACK: Montoya finished eighth for his second top-10 finish in the last three races. "We didn't unload as good as we wanted, but we got it where it was really good," said Montoya. "We did a really good job. We have been running like this all year, but only in the last couple of weeks have been gotten the results we deserve."

ETC.: After a slow, slow start to the season, Montoya believes the team is now headed in the right direction. "We've had good cars all year, but we've just had all kinds of mistakes (on pit road) and other things (mechanical) go wrong. I keep telling the guys we have got to execute. If every person here does their best we are going to be looking like heroes here. Tonight (Darlington) is a good example of that."

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 80 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Finished seventh a year ago in his first All-Star appearance.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "There is a heightened excitement around this race (the Sprint All-Star race). We have shown a lot of speed on the mile-and-a-half tracks this year, and I'm thrilled to have a race where we just go for the win. We had a lot of fun in last year's event and raced up there with the best of them. We plan on being up front again this weekend and contending for the million-dollar prize."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose struggled all night as he finished 34th at Darlington. "We'll have to go back and take a look at the car in the shop," said Ambrose. "We struggled with it yesterday, and tonight, it wasn't much better. Very early in the race, we knew it was going to be a long night. It just didn't react to anything and Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) threw a lot at it. "

ETC: Car owner Richard Petty and Ambrose will play host to Make-A-Wish child Jacob from Sumter, Ga. Jacob wanted to watch a race and meet Petty and his race team. Jacob will meet with both Petty and Ambrose and be a VIP guest of the 9 team on race day.

55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 89 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Two wins and 10 top-10 finishes in 23 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Martin calls the All-Star race "one of the highlights of the season. It's just a great event for the fans and the drivers. In this race you run for a big trophy and a big check (one million dollars). The All-Star Race is a break from counting points. That also makes it fun. I'd love to win that big trophy and some of Bruton's (Smith, the track owner) money Saturday night."

LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long night for Martin as he finished 25th, four laps back of winner Matt Kenseth. "That was a tough night for us," said Martin. "The Aaron's Dream Machine was pretty loose so I needed the whole race track to drive it. I couldn't get near anyone on the track. Because of those long green-flag runs we didn't get a chance to work on it. We'll bounce back at Charlotte next weekend."

ETC.: Martin had been in more All-Star races than any other driver - 23. "I've enjoyed every one," said Martin. "I've been fortunate to work with a whole lot of great people, teams and organization over the years. It's a great event. This race creates memories."

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 27th, 118 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.

ALL-STAR RECORD: Three top-seven finishes including two fourth-place finishes in six starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: One of the most surprising stats about the Sprint All-Star race is that no Joe Gibbs Racing driver has ever won the special event. Hamlin hopes to become the first. "Charlotte has been one of our better tracks, but we can't seem to get the win," said Hamlin. "But JGR has been really strong this year (with five wins in 11 races). So all of us feel this could be our weekend."

LOOKING BACK: After missing four races and most of another because of a compressed fracture in his back, Hamlin returned in grand style as he finished second at Darlington. "We ran good," said Hamlin. "We were kind of mired in fifth to eighth for most of the day. We kept grinding away. The pit crew picked us up some spots throughout the night. It was one of those days where we got our car better, pit crew picked us up positions, took us to the most optimum spot we could get to and that was second."

ETC.: Following the Darlington race, Hamlin said, "My back held up good. I'm more sore - shoulders, neck, things like that. I got to get back in racing shape. It will take time to get back to where I need to be. Really it's like starting your season over with. To start it back over at Darlington for 500 miles - there's some muscles that have gotten weak. I'm pretty sore and tired - mentally tired as well. We'll have a couple of weeks really to rest until the next long event (the Coca-Cola 600, the longest stock car race of the year) and we'll be good to go then."

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