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Notebook: Stenhouse Jr. takes Nationwide lead

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

JOLIET, Ill. -- It was a statement victory for defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won Saturday's Dollar General 300 Powered by Coca-Cola at Chicagoland Speedway and simultaneously wrested the series lead from Elliott Sadler.

The victory was Stenhouse's fifth of the season and the seventh of his career. He crossed the finish line 2.402 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, who fell one spot short of posting his first victory in the Nationwide car he owns.

Austin Dillon ran third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard. Sadler finished eighth and fell from the top spot in the standings after holding it for 20 consecutive weeks. With seven races left, Stenhouse leads Sadler by nine points.

Ninth-place finisher and pole-sitter Joey Logano regained the lead under caution on Lap 124 for Benny Gordon's accident in Turn 3. Logano beat Dillon off pit road by six inches and led the field to a restart.

Stenhouse lost seven spots when his car stalled in the pits and took the green flag in the 11th position but gradually worked his way back through the field. By the time the race reached Lap 150, Stenhouse had passed Sadler for the third position.

Busch grabbed the top spot shortly after the restart on Lap 130 and pulled away to a lead of 1.5 seconds as Logano faded. Busch, Dillon and Stenhouse staged a three-car breakaway during that green-flag run, but a caution for Jason Bowles' spin in Turn 3 on Lap 167 shuffled the running order.

With a 12.5-second stop for four tires and fuel, Sadler was first off pit road on Lap 168 and led Busch to a restart on Lap 172. Busch quickly reassumed the lead while Sadler dropped back to sixth by Lap 177.

Stenhouse, however, moved past Busch on Lap 180 and quickly established an advantage of more than a second.

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

JOLIET, Ill. -- For Jimmie Johnson, it was an excellent first step.

Johnson will start the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup from the pole in Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

The 23rd of 47 drivers to make a qualifying run in Saturday's time trials, Johnson covered the 1.5-mile distance in 29.530 seconds (182.865 mph) and waited for the rest of the field to try to knock him off the provisional pole.

"Hopefully, it'll get hotter, and things will slow down," Johnson said after his run.

Johnson got his wish. Ultimately, he edged Aric Almirola for the top spot by.037 seconds to claim his second Coors Light pole award of the season, his second in 11 tries at Chicagoland and the 27th of his career.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus chose not to make a qualifying run during Friday's first practice -- hence, their mid-pack position in a qualifying order determined slowest-to-fastest by speed in the first session.

"It just didn't make sense to post a fast lap with the conditions not being right," Johnson explained. "We waited till the second session to work on qualifying, so the track temp would be close. It was a tough call to make, because we didn't use all of our sets of tires to the fullest.

"I'm glad it paid off. It worked out well for us. If we were sitting here 20th, we'd be mad about what we did yesterday, and didn't spend more time on race trim in the second practice. ... It all worked out so far."

Johnson starts his quest for a sixth title from the top starting spot, with the rest of the Chase drivers spread through the field behind him. Matt Kenseth (182.334 mph) will start behind Johnson from the third position.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (182.070 mph) qualified fourth, with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne (181.971 mph) directly behind him on the grid in sixth. The remaining eight Chase drivers start as follows: Denny Hamlin (eighth), Clint Bowyer (ninth), Brad Keselowski (13th), Martin Truex Jr. (18th), Jeff Gordon (19th), Greg Biffle (22nd), defending Cup champion Tony Stewart (29th) and Kevin Harvick (35th).

After a crew chief swap at Richard Petty Motorsports brought Todd Parrott to the No. 43 Ford, Almirola responded with a blistering lap at 182.636 mph, good enough to snag the outside of the front row. Carl Edwards, frustrated in his quest to make the Chase this year, will start fifth at 182.045 mph.

"We unloaded with a really good car, a really stable car," Almirola said. "It drove really nice right off the truck, so we've just been fine-tuning it. He (Parrott) has made some changes just trying to get an idea of what I like.

"We're going through a little bit of that of trying to understand each other, and he is trying to understand how I want my race cars to drive. It helps when they unload right off the truck and are really fast. We've had a good car all weekend."

Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley and Jason Leffler failed to make the 43-car field.

---By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

JOLIET, Ill. -- Carl Edwards is ready to go, but there's a problem.

There's no big prize in front of him.

Winless since March 2011, Edwards won't be part of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this season. When the driver who lost last year's championship on a tiebreaker comes to the track for the final 10 races, there will be a void.

"Everything I've done this year has been geared toward these 10 races, and the idea of missing them ... that wasn't the plan," Edwards told reporters after Friday's Roush Fenway Racing sponsorship announcement at Chicagoland Speedway.

"I'm physically fit as I can be. I'm mentally fit. I'm prepared, and I feel like we're ready to go, and there are still victories out there, but there's not that huge goal, and that's tough. I don't know how to really put that into words."

Whether it's battling Kyle Busch for 13th in the standings or helping teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle -- both of whom qualified for NASCAR's playoff -- Edwards needs something to compensate for the absence of a title run.

"I need a challenge," Edwards said. "That's what I told Jack and the guys. If there's anything I can do to help Matt and Greg, anything to give me a goal, that's how I'm built."

To Edwards, perhaps the most disappointing aspect about missing the Chase is the knowledge that any of the 12 eligible drivers can put together a 10-race championship run, as Tony Stewart proved last year when he won five races in the Chase and overtook Edwards for the title.

"That's why it's so painful for Kyle and I, to be on the outside, because we know anything can happen," Edwards said. "What if I go out there in this 99 car, and me and (crew chief) Chad (Norris) win six races and dominate. How sickening would that be, to not be in it?"

NEW SAFETY MEASURES FOR 2013 CAR

Earlier this week, NASCAR issued a technical bulletin to Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams mandating enhanced safety measures for 2013 cars.

Starting in January of next year, teams will be required to strengthen the roll cage through the addition of a forward roof bar and a center roof support bar that will intersect near the front center of the roll cage.

The new safety measure comes as the result of extensive testing at NASCAR's Research and Development center in Concord, N.C.

A RESPONSIBLE PAINT SCHEME

In Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Chase driver Kevin Harvick will sport a "Designate a Driver" paint scheme on his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, in support of Anheuser-Busch's "Global Be(er) Responsible Day" on Sept. 21.

The paint scheme promotes Budweiser's initiative to encourage adults to drink responsibly and to pledge to do so through nationofresponsibledrinkers.com. Harvick himself has taken the pledge.

"For me to take the pledge to be a responsible drinker, it's very easy, because in my profession, in what I do, there's no room for error," Harvick said. "Off the race track, there's no room for error either. ... When you're drinking and having a good time, don't take it for granted.

"Go out, get a designated driver, call a taxi. It's very easy to make it simple, have a good time and go home safe."
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