ETC.: Allmendinger is a big fan of the new Chase format where one win almost guarantees a driver a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. "With the Chase format, you can be having a terrible year and all of sudden you win a race and the next thing you know you're in the Chase," said Allmendinger. "Now you can have 12 bad weeks in a row and be 30th in points and the next thing you know, you go and win the 13th race and you are in the Chase. That gives all of us hope."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 40 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray is like any other race driver that is a father -- he plans on "really enjoying" the upcoming off weekend with his two kids. "It is going to be family time," said McMurray. "That is what Easter should be - family time."
LOOKING BACK: It was not the night that McMurray expected after qualifying sixth and being one of the fastest cars in practice as he finished 16th at Darlington. "A tough night for our Cessna team," said McMurray. "We struggled to find the balance on our car tonight. As good we were in practice yesterday, I certainly didn't expect that tonight. Our guys worked hard on pit road and made a lot of changes to the car to battle back for a 16th-place finish."
ETC.: McMurray is quick to point out that it is still too early in the season to get stressed out when it comes to making the Chase. But he also admits "it all depends on where you are in points. There are going to be people that make the Chase that haven't won a race. The closer we get to Richmond (the last race to qualify for a spot in this year's Chase for the Championship) that is when guys will begin to realize they have no chance of making it on points. That is when things will get fired up."
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: While Harvick is one of the few drivers who have had fast cars at every race this season, he is still ready for a break. "It will be good to just get away and spend some quality time with DeLana (his wife) and Keelan (his young son)," said Harvick. "Weeks off are pretty rare in this business. So it is always nice to get one."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick dominated the Southern 500 as he led seven times for a whopping 238 laps. But he was forced to rally in the final 15 laps after a late-race yellow flag jumbled the standings with different drivers on different tire strategy. "It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end," said Harvick, who needed the second attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish to regain the lead when he passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with just over a lap to go. "The cautions all lined out and this Budweiser Chevrolet was unbelievable all night," added Harvick. "I knew I had that high line I hadn't showed it to them all night on the restarts and I wanted to save it until the end (to make the pass on Earnhardt)." The win was Harvick's second of the season and the 25th of his career as he became the first driver with two wins in 2014.
ETC.: Harvick joined a very select list with his Southern 500 victory at Darlington. He became only the fourth driver to win the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500. The other three are Dale Earnhardt (Sr.), Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. "This is what I used to do for a hobby," said Harvick. "We're fortunate to be able to do this for a living, but to be able to have celebrated a lot of the race wins, whether it be Indy or Daytona or Charlotte or the All-Star Race or the Southern 500 now is something that some people don't get to experience at all in their careers. To celebrate them all is something that's pretty phenomenal. This is the one race I told Rodney (Childers, crew chief) I wanted to win (when they teamed up at the beginning of the season). This is the Southern 500; this is as big as it gets in NASCAR racing."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 49 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne expects to spend a lot of his off week with his sprint car team. "It will be a lot of fun just to hang out with them and watch them run," said Kahne. "We've had a pretty good season so far." Cody Darrah drove his Kasey Kahne Racing sprint car to its third consecutive World of Outlaws series win last Friday night, joining teammates Brad Sweet and Daryl Pittman as winners so far this season.
LOOKING BACK: Good pit strategy vaulted Kahne into the lead on two different occasions Saturday night, but a late-race accident ended his night in 37th place. "We had a really good car midway through the race," said Kahne. "But we struggled a little with about a 100 laps to go and we were trying to get back into the top 10 when we had our problem. Just a bad way to end the night."
ETC.: The year certainly hasn't started as well as Kahne had expected. In the first eight races, his best finish is an eighth at Las Vegas and Bristol. "We've had a lot of bad luck," said Kahne. "We can't seem to catch a break. But all we need to do is win a race and we'll all forget all the bad things that have happened to us. That is the good part about this year. One win and you're in the Chase no matter where you are in points." Actually, a driver must be in the top 30 in points to make the Chase no matter how many races he wins.
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 51 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola doesn't have any "great plans" for the week off. "It will be nice to have a couple of days off, but the guys that really need it are the guys at the shop and the guys that travel with us each week," said Almirola. "They are the others that need and deserve a long, long weekend. They are the ones that have been working all those long hours since the start of the year."
LOOKING BACK: After setting a track record during the second of the three qualifying rounds, Almirola had visions of challenging for a win at the famed Darlington Raceway. But once the sun went down, Almirola battled major handling problems. And this coupled with a late-race spin and a pit-road speeding penalty resulted in a disappointing 24th-place finish. "After having such a good day on Friday, today was not what we had expected," said Almirola. "We were okay at the start, but as the sun set, our car continued to get worse. Trent (Owens, crew chief) and the guys worked hard to get the handling better, but we couldn't make the adjustments we needed to in order to get the car better."
ETC.: Kyle Petty said his father Richard is "doing pretty good" since the death of his wife Lynda. "They were together 57 years and even though he spent 50 of those 57 years on the road, according to him, at race tracks, it's been a lot harder and a lot tougher (than he thought)," added Kyle. "He's used to going to the race track and being at the race track alone, but he's not used to being at home and being alone. So I've stayed with him some, and my sisters have stayed with him some. It's just going to take time." Richard has not been at the track since Lynda died on March 25.