Homestead full of goodbyes at NASCAR finale
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Here are items of note outside of the championship four drivers in advance of Sunday's NASCAR finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
GORDON'S GRIPE: Jeff Gordon would normally love to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and head into the offseason with confidence from winning the last NASCAR race of the season.
Gordon, who won four times and led the standings most of the year, was crushed when he was knocked out of the championship field by one point. He put the disappointment aside to win the pole, making it hard not to think about how close he was to potentially winning his fifth championship.
On Sunday, the focus will be on career win No. 93 and keeping contenders Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano out of Victory Lane.
''There's a lot on the line for those guys, and we want to be the spoiler,'' he said.
Gordon, who last won a title in 2001, suggested some changes in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format. He mostly praised this season's revamped format that pushed championship-contending drivers into the next round with a victory.
But he suggested a tweak - let the field that started with 16 drivers before it's whittled to the final four drivers race with their own points system.
''When I think of our rounds that didn't go well for us, besides the one in Texas, they really had more to do with the guys outside the Chase that kind of cost us some spots and some points,'' Gordon said.
Under Gordon's proposed system, a Chase driver in the first round could stand no worse than 16th in points even if the car has a back-of-the pack finish.
''I think you've still got to be consistent, winning is still going to get you through, but it allows you to race those guys, not necessarily go race everybody else,'' Gordon said.
ROUSH DEPARTURES: Carl Edwards and crew chief Jimmy Fennig are set for their last race at Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards made his Sprint Cup debut for Jack Roush in 2004 and has won 23 races. He will join a new fourth Toyota team for Joe Gibbs Racing next season. Edwards won two races this season and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, though he was eliminated from contention.
''I've never been a part of something like this where everybody just doesn't give up,'' Edwards said. ''This means the world.''
Fennig will step down from the pit box after a lengthy career that included a 2004 championship with Kurt Busch and stints with Bobby Allison, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin.
''I think he's been doing this longer than I've been alive, so there are a lot of doors closing or chapters finishing,'' Edwards said.
LETARTE OUT: Steve Letarte will watch next season's finale from the broadcast booth instead of calling the shots for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Letarte will step down as Earnhardt's crew chief and join NBC's multi-platform NASCAR coverage beginning in 2015. He will join lead announcer Rick Allen and analyst Jeff Burton.
Letarte has been Earnhardt's crew chief since 2011. They easily enjoyed their best season together, winning the season-opening Daytona 500, sweeping both Pocono races, and a Chase race at Martinsville.
Hendrick Motorsports named Greg Ives the crew chief for 2015.
Letarte will leave the weekly grind of NASCAR for the relative comfort of the booth for family reasons.
''I feel as much as I love my job, they have to come first,'' he said. ''Six and a half days a week I think I'm really going to love my job, my new job, and there's four hours on Sunday I have no idea how I'm going to replace it yet. I'll have to find a hobby, I think.''
AMBROSE FINALE: See ya, Mate.
Marcos Ambrose is returning to his native Australia after a seven-year career in NASCAR. Team Penske partnered with Dick Johnson Racing to form a V8 Supercar team that Ambrose will drive for in 2015.
Ambrose came to the U.S. in 2006 in pursuit of a NASCAR career, but never found regular success driving stock cars. He won just two races for Richard Petty Motorsports, both on the Watkins Glen road course.
He'll return to Australia so his children could attend school in their native country.
''It's nothing but success,'' Ambrose said. ''I don't feel like I'm a B-Class driver out there. I feel I'm as good as anyone on my day. I've learned the ovals and managed to survive them.''
GRUBB'S CHASE: Darian Grubb could make a bit of unwanted history: Win a Cup championship with one driver, then get forced off for another driver the next season.
The veteran crew chief was dumped by Tony Stewart after they won the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. On the cusp of leading Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin to a championship, Grubb could be moved to another JGR driver in 2015.
Team owner Joe Gibbs has said for several months there could be lineup changes at JGR next season as Carl Edwards comes on board in a new fourth team. It means Grubb's position with Hamlin isn't certain, although he cautioned to take a wait-and-see approach until after Sunday's race.
Grubb would join Carl Kiekhaefer and Dale Inman as the only crew chiefs to win a championship with different drivers.
THEY SAID IT: ''That was a moment in time where you leverage social media to kind of turn the conversation. It turned it in a matter of four or five hours, and it's something that we leveraged for about a week, and we're done now. So we're going to move on.'' - Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports. Chevy created a stir at the World Series when a zone manager stumbled while presenting keys to the MVP for a pickup truck he said had ''you know, technology and stuff.''