LOOKING BACK: A pit-road speeding penalty late in the Southern 500 dropped Hamlin out of the top 10. And then he bounced hard off the wall trying to battle his way back to the front. As a result, he ended the night in 19th place. "Not a good ending to what could have been a good night," said Hamlin. "Things got real hectic with all those cautions at the end. That penalty really hurt us. Just not a good way to end the night."
ETC.: Hamlin believes it is important for drivers to "prepare for the weekends as much as the teams in the sense of what they have to do. I just don't think now you can just show up, sit down in your seat, not know anything about your car and run as competitive as some of the guys that win each week. It's all about debriefing and figuring out how can you get better. Not just chalking it up, 'Oh, it's just a bad weekend. We'll rebound next week.' No, why? Why did you struggle? How can you get better?"
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer plans to spend much of his off week in the Bahamas "just getting away from it. All of us on the 15 team put a lot of hard work into this deal and all of us need a few days off," said Bowyer. "It is going to be nice to be able to forget all about racing for a few days. And then come next week all of us will be back at it ready to win some races."
LOOKING BACK: Things didn't go as well as Bowyer would have liked on the green-white-checkered flag finish and as a result, Bowyer ended up 12th after running as high as seventh with 10 laps to go. "Man, that was a tough night for the 5-Hour Energy Toyota," said Bowyer. "My guys got us pretty decent at the end. I thought we were going to grab a top-10, but we just got shuffled back on the final restart (after bouncing off several cars during the hectic finish)."
ETC.: Bowyer is in the final year of his present contract. "I'm not worried about it (the contract negotiations)," said Bowyer. "The thought isn't what you're going to do or what you're not going to do, it's maintaining. Our stock is good as far as I'm concerned. We've got a great platform; we've got great sponsors and (I) want to be right where I'm at."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 19 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose is looking forward to spending some quality time with his two daughters and his wife Sonja during the off weekend. "It is always nice to be able to few days with my three girls and not worry about the racing side of things," said Ambrose. "It is nice to just be a family for a few days without worrying about the race car and the next race."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose had high hopes for the evening after posting the fourth fastest speed in qualifying, but instead he battled an ill-handling race car for most of the night as he finished 14th at Darlington. "A lot of guys had really loose race cars, and our DeWalt Ford drove so much different than what it did in practice," said Ambrose. "We had a 20th-place car and finished 14th with it. It is a good points night, and we will keep chipping away. We just have to work out how to make these cars run when the tape comes off the nose (after qualifying). All in all, not a bad weekend."
ETC.: This is Ambrose's fourth season with Richard Petty Motorsports. "I joined at a fairly tumultuous time," admits Ambrose. "That was a difficult time for Richard and everybody to re-brand the company and actually re-buy the company and take it from the crumbs. So I've seen it at its darkest days and I'm looking forward to the rest of 2014 because I think it's the year Richard Petty Motorsports breaks out and shows everybody how much we've grown in these last four years."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 29 points out of the top 10. Lost eight spots last week to fall out of the top 10.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard and the team do not plan on letting a bad night at Darlington ruin their outlook on the season. "We've had three straight weeks of solid performances, so we're not going to let what happened in Darlington get us down," said Menard. "We'll enjoy the off-weekend and get back to work at Richmond in two weeks. We've been running too good to let one bad night put us in a bad mood."
LOOKING BACK: A cut right-front tire sent Menard hard into the turn one wall on lap 202 of the scheduled 367-lap event. The car suffered extensive damage and Menard was forced to go to the garage area for repairs. By the time he returned to the race he was more than a 100 laps down. As a result, he finished 41st. "It's a shame we had the finish we had - we were solid all weekend long, but unfortunately a flat right-front tire ruined what could have been a decent finish."
ETC.: This is the fifth season that Menard and crew chief Slugger Labbe have worked together. "We trust each other," said Menard. "There's comfort level working with one another and we balance each other out personality wise. I think those are the main reasons we've been together as long as we have been. He and I just have that connection that is so important between a crew chief and a driver."
47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 33 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger is both sad and glad to see a break in the Cup schedule. "Everybody on the team is looking forward to having some time off, but at the same time you don't want to put a halt to the momentum this team has been on in recent weeks," said Allmendinger. "We've run in the top 15 for three of the last four weeks. We've really come a long ways since the start of the season."
LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 15th at Darlington. "We just missed it (the setup) today," said Allmendinger. "But to come back and finish 15th says a lot about this JTG Daugherty Racing team. We fought a tight handling car so much the last how many weeks and I don't want to be tight. I'm proud of the guys because they really fought hard to get a top-15 out of the night. That was all on them. It was not on me. I'm a little frustrated with myself because I don't feel like I'm at my best right now."