A week after banging fenders with Martin Truex Jr. on his way to the bottom of the Chase pile, Harvick joined the Toyota driver as the second to advance to the Round of 12 by winning on the mile oval in New Hampshire on Sunday.
Harvick continued his streak of not having been eliminated from any round of the Chase since 2014. That was the first year of the new Sprint Cup championship format, which Harvick christened by winning it.
Driving a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy, he won at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in typical Harvick fashion. He uneventfully worked his way to the front and didn't announce any potential for winning until the Golden Mile turned yellow and went into its usual tailspin of late-race cautions.
On the final two restarts, Harvick passed the Toyotas of Truex, Kyle Busch and leader Matt Kenseth as if he had been setting a chess board all day before declaring checkmate.
After a near-disastrous opening Chase race a week earlier, where events conspired to keep him a lap down most of the day, Harvick served notice that Chevrolet may well have some teams that can stand up to the Toyotas of Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
The last six laps were the only ones that Harvick led all day. That was good enough to advance him to the Round of 12 that begins in Charlotte in two weeks after the Round of 16 concludes in Dover, Del., on Sunday.
The span from the end of the first Chase race until the second one was a frustrating episode for the driver from Bakersfield, Calif. In addition to his problems in Chicago, Harvick was among those agitated by NASCAR's midweek flip-flop on how it would administer penalties for teams caught with additional "skew" in the rear tires.
Like most observers, Harvick understood the enforcement of the rule was not about how much a team might go over in the measurements. Rather the rule was about a team trying to cut it too close and failing to stay within the limits. After going over slightly at Chicagoland, Truex and Jimmie Johnson both benefited without penalty due to NASCAR's change to administering penalties only for significant overages in measurements taken in post-race laser inspection.
"I was just absolutely irate all week about everything that went on," said Harvick, who added he didn't calm down until the day before the New Hampshire race. Now 40, he added that he's discovered a new talent in the years since he won his first Sprint Cup race in 2001 as the heir apparent to Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Richard Childress Racing.
"Over the past several years I think I've become a lot better at letting things go," said Harvick, who has won 11 races in 100 starts for Stewart-Haas since leaving RCR after the 2013 season. "You can hold a lot in and frustrate yourself and you're just not going to perform at the level that you need to perform and communicate with your team and the people around you. It just really wasn't -- I had to move on, and it worked out for us."
Known as "Happy" for an alternately dour or bright outlook -- each in ample evidence in the past two weeks -- Harvick is not shy about blowing off steam in addition to letting the anger go. The Chicagoland incident where he banged into Truex on the straightaway last week was an example. In a Trump-like pivot once in New Hampshire, Harvick told Truex he was angry at the Toyota driver for hitting him. That struck Truex and others as a bit of mystery.
Despite his frustrations, Harvick arrived in New England ready to win from his bubble position of 12th place in the Chase standings. Asked about his driver's ability to race well with his back to the wall, crew chief Rodney Childers acknowledged that Harvick helps lead the way when it comes to bouncing back from misfortune under the elimination format.
"You have to believe that you can win or you're not going to do it," said Childers. "We felt like we brought a good car here and thought that we could pull off the victory if we did everything right, and it just really came down to doing everything right. It's not always going to be that way, but he definitely steps up to the table, and all my guys do, also, and I think it just works out."
The No. 4 Stewart-Haas team surely gets motivation from a driver who never quits. A year ago, a decision by Childers to have his crew shake the rear of the team's Chevy during a gas-only pit stop actually added air to the tank instead of more gas. The fastest car on the track, Harvick ran out of fuel while leading shortly before the finish. In a must-win situation, Harvick and his team advanced to the next round of the Chase with a victory in Dover.
The win in New Hampshire this year was well received by fans, some of whom rushed the fences during Harvick's victory lap. After two straight wins by Kenseth on the Golden Mile, this could be interpreted as a vote in favor of Chevy over Toyota by the fans in New England, a traditional stronghold for NASCAR -- particularly in the home-built Modified category which long has featured American-made engines and other high-performance aftermarket parts from GM.
The SHR team gets its Chevy chassis and engines from Hendrick Motorsports, which also had another relatively strong day before the cautions took Chase Elliott out of contention due to his worn tires and inside position on the final two restarts.
It's been said it only takes two cars to make a race. But it doesn't hurt to have two manufacturers in the championship as well. It could well be three manufacturers in the hunt if Team Penske can find a bit more speed for its Fords to go along with the driving of Brad Keselowski, who is positioned to advance after Dover following two Top 5 finishes despite not having the quickness to contend for victory.
Asked about beating the Toyotas, which have dominated this season, Childers exuded confidence.
"I think the question is can we stop ourselves," he said after his team's third victory this year. "That's the question. I felt like we had a great car last weekend and put ourselves in a bad position and probably could have won the race just like they did, and we won today. So it's up to us. It's up to us to take good cars to the race track. It's up to us to have good pit stops. It's up to me to make good decisions during the weekend and on pit road, and I think if we do that, we'll keep advancing as far as we can."
Last year, Harvick used a good result in Phoenix to advance to the final Chase race in Homestead for the second straight year before Busch took the final round to win the title. This year, having avoided desperation in the opening three-race segment, one wonders how Harvick and his team will handle the current prosperity.
Is the threat of winning equally motivating as the threat of losing? Time will tell.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Sunday, September 25, 2016
1. (19) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 300.
2. (8) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 300.
3. (12) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 300.
4. (11) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 300.
5. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 300.
6. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 300.
7. (2) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 300.
8. (4) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 300.
9. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 300.
10. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 300.
11. (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 300.
12. (16) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 300.
13. (10) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 300.
14. (18) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, 300.
15. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 300.
16. (29) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 300.
17. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 300.
18. (24) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 300.
19. (7) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 300.
20. (3) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 300.
21. (17) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 300.
22. (37) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 300.
23. (22) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 299.
24. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 299.
25. (14) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 299.
26. (20) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 298.
27. (31) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 298.
28. (33) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 298.
29. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 298.
30. (28) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 298.
31. (25) Brian Scott #, Ford, 298.
32. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 297.
33. (32) Greg Biffle, Ford, 297.
34. (30) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 297.
35. (36) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 294.
36. (38) * Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 293.
37. (40) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 290.
38. (27) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Accident, 282.
39. (39) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 268.
40. (35) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Steering, 236.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 109.291 mph.
Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 54 Mins, 15 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.442 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 31 laps.
Lead Changes: 14 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Edwards 1-30; M. Truex Jr 31-75; C. Edwards 76; Kyle Busch 77-78; B. Keselowski 79-80; M. Truex Jr 81-124; Kyle Busch 125; M. Truex Jr 126-166; C. Elliott # 167; M. Truex Jr 168-178; M. Kenseth 179-231; K. Harvick 232-233; D. Patrick 234-242; M. Kenseth 243-294; K. Harvick 295-300.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Truex Jr 4 times for 141 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 105 laps; C. Edwards 2 times for 31 laps; D. Patrick 1 time for 9 laps; K. Harvick 2 times for 8 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 3 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps; C. Elliott # 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: B. Keselowski -- 2,087; M. Truex Jr -- 2,086; Kyle Busch -- 2,085; M. Kenseth -- 2,078; J. Logano -- 2,073; K. Harvick -- 2,071; D. Hamlin -- 2,071; J. Johnson -- 2,070; C. Elliott # -- 2,068; C. Edwards -- 2,068; Kurt Busch -- 2,067; K. Larson -- 2,057; J. Mcmurray -- 2,052; A. Dillon -- 2,052; T. Stewart -- 2,046; C. Buescher # -- 2,027.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LOUDON, N.H. -- For all appearances, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. were going to settle Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 between them.
Truex led a race-high 141-of-300 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kenseth led 105.
From a restart on Lap 249 until the fifth caution of the race on Lap 285, the Toyota drivers ran 1-2, with Kenseth playing defense from the lead and Truex trying every trick he knew to get past Kenseth's No. 20 Camry.
Truex would dive inside and pull up to Kenseth's door, only to have Kenseth pinch the No. 78 Toyota toward the apron and break Truex's momentum. Lap after lap, it was a constant parry and thrust, as both drivers wore out their tires in one of the longest sustained battles for the lead in recent memory.
Both drivers raced cleanly. Truex already had a victory in his pocket and a guaranteed ticket into the Round of 12 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. And in a real sense, Truex and Kenseth are teammates, even though they drive for different organizations.
Furniture Row Racing, which fields Truex's cars, is a customer and technical partner of Joe Gibbs Racing. Both get their engines from Toyota Racing Development, and they share information between the two organizations.
So it was incumbent on both drivers to race hard, which they did, without wrecking each other.
"I was trying to race as hard as I possibly could without getting into him, and he wasn't making that easy," Truex said. "But that's his job as the leader. This racetrack is... it's hard to pass at. It's really hard to pass on when you have two cars that are very equal. I felt like we were a little bit better than him at that point in time but not good enough to just drive by him.
"He was running the line that I needed to run, and I could get inside him, but he didn't give me much room underneath him to get any grip, and every time we'd go off in the corner I'd get loose and have to back out from underneath him. It was tough racing, hard racing."
Though Truex covets a victory at the track where his father raced in both the NASCAR XFINITY and Busch North Series, he wasn't willing to knock Kenseth out of the way for the win.
"I felt like I probably could have pushed the issue a little bit more, just didn't want to risk contact, getting into him and taking him out of the race," Truex said. "I know he's got a lot on the line. We've got our win, so that kind of played into that decision a little bit.
"And like you said, he's a teammate, too. It would be an awkward meeting on Tuesday if I knocked him out of the way to win my second race of the first round."
The irony was that neither driver won the race. Taking advantage of a late caution, Kevin Harvick, who led a total of eight laps, beat Kenseth on a late restart and relegated the JGR driver to second place. Truex slipped to seventh at the finish.
Logano makes most of inauspicious start
There's no statistical category for "saves" in NASCAR racing, but if there were, Joey Logano would be the clear leader at New Hampshire.
With perseverance, Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske outfit turned a potentially disastrous day into a respectable finish and gave themselves a modicum of breathing room in the Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
After a so-so qualifying effort, Logano started 15th in Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 and quickly went backwards. On Lap 114 of a long green-flag run to start the race, leader Martin Truex Jr. passed Logano to put the No. 22 Ford a lap down.
Eventually, Logano took a wave-around for a restart on lap 172 and returned to the lead lap, but another long caution-free run forced him to pit for fuel on Lap 218. Logano fell to 26th in the running order, in danger of falling out of the all-important top 12 in the Chase standings.
But the No. 22 team made the most of a series of late cautions and got back on the lead lap as the "lucky dog" (highest-scored lapped car) for a restart with 32 circuits left. Logano was 20th at the time but, with the help of tire strategy, drove up to 11th at the finish.
Fifth in the standings, Logano now has a 21-point lead over Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon, who are tied for 13th.
"It was a hard fight to say the least with the Shell/Pennzoil Ford," Logano said after the race. "We took off awful, just like we did in the spring race, too. It's crazy. We went down a lap and fought all day and then finally got the lucky dog but not with many laps to make it up.
"We made our car better, but didn't have enough time to get ourselves back up to where I thought we were speed-wise at the end. I'm proud of the never-quit-attitude. We're resilient. We just need to start a little bit faster. We can't lose that many spots at the beginning of the race and expect to battle back every time.
"We did what we had to do. We almost got a top 10 out of something that we ran around 20th all day, so at least we got something out of it. We just need to go faster than that."
On new tires, Kyle Busch charges to third place
Kyle Busch didn't have a car that could contend for the victory on Sunday at New Hampshire -- until crew chief Adam Stevens convinced him to pit for fresh rubber with 35 laps left.
Subsequently, Busch restarted 10th on Lap 269 and quickly powered his no. 18 Toyota into third place. But for two late cautions, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion might have had a shot at victory in the second race of the Chase.
But Busch was happy to take his third-place result into the final race of the Round of 16 next Sunday at Dover.
"If it wasn't for those last couple of cautions, I thought maybe we had an opportunity to chase those guys (Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.) down under green and pass them for the win," Busch said. "It wasn't meant to be. We managed our way through those restarts as best we could with restarting on the bottom, I feel like that's a little bit of a disadvantage.
"We made the most of it at least at the end and didn't lose spots, we were able to maintain our position and come out of here with a decent day. Excited about the opportunity to finish third and having a good points cushion. You can't take any of that for granted, you have to focus on what's ahead and the big picture and the task at hand, which is to have another good, solid week next week at Dover."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LOUDON, N.H. -- Kyle Larson tends to undersell his prowess at short tracks in general and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in particular.
To hear him tell it, you would never suspect that the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet finished third and second in the first two of his five starts at the Magic Mile.
And on Saturday, in final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice for Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) - the second race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup - Larson posted the fastest lap in Happy Hour at 132.577 mph.
That was after he and Martin Truex Jr. tied for the top speed (132.186 mph) in Saturday's first session.
One day earlier, Larson had qualified sixth for Sunday's race, one position ahead of teammate Jamie McMurray. And though Larson's average finish at Loudon in his brief Sprint Cup career is 14.0 versus McMurray's 19.9 in 27 starts, Larson gave a nod to his teammate after the three-round knockout qualifying session.
"Starting sixth is better than where I typically start at short tracks," said Larson, who started second and finished second at Richmond in the cutoff race for the Chase. "The last couple of short tracks have been good for me. So I'm looking forward to it. We made some gains, I think, with our Target Chevy at Richmond, and have taken some of that stuff to here at Loudon.
"I have a little bit more speed than normal. And I've figured out some things inside the cockpit that have helped me get a little bit better. I was looking at Jamie's throttle data and how he's driving a little bit different than me, and it's helped a lot."
McMurray likewise was happy with his qualifying effort, his best at NHMS since he started second and finished fourth in the 2014 Chase race at the Magic Mile.
"I thought, in practice actually, that we had one of the best cars on scuffed tires," McMurray said after his qualifying run. "The qualifying format is interesting, because it doesn't really matter how quick you are on stickers. It's all about being good that second and third run.
"But with the temperatures cooling down, we struggled with being a little bit loose in (into the corners), but it was a good run for both of our Chip Ganassi Racing cars. Kyle ended up sixth, and we're seventh, so I'm pretty excited about that. And we'll probably get a good pit stall, which is really important here."
In fact, McMurray's crew chief, Matt McCall, chose pit stall No. 31, six stalls short of the start/finish line, with the opening to the Sprint Cup garage between McMurray's stall and pit box No. 30, occupied by Truex, the second-place qualifier. Accordingly, McMurray will have a clean entry into his stall, even if he trails Truex onto pit road.
-- Jimmie Johnson hopes practice makes perfect: It's bad enough to make a mistake, but it's unforgivable to make the same one twice.
That seemed to be Jimmie Johnson's philosophy during Saturday morning's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Last week at Chicagoland Speedway, in the opening race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Johnson led a race-high 118 laps, only to be bamboozled by a pit road speeding penalty that dropped him to 12th at the finish.
After watching video of the offending pit stop, Johnson concluded he had gunned his No. 48 Chevrolet a fraction of a second too early as he left pit road.
So when practice started at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Johnson went to work. He practiced pit road entries at the flat 1.058-mile track. He practiced maintaining pit road speed, trying to ensure he won't be ensnared by the addition of timing lines that have shortened the timed segments entering and leaving the pits.
All told, Johnson ran 57 laps in the Saturday morning session, more than any other driver.
But his work had started earlier in the week.
"I've spent a lot of time this week working on pit road speed again," Johnson said. "Any way we possibly can - from simulators and looking at the simulator that we have for the dash, which is on a workbench, to looking at my teammates to looking at everything.
"I was fine on pit road. I just left about two feet too early in the last segment. I thought the nose was at the line and evidently it was a couple of feet early, and I got burned on that. So I just might wait a bit longer before I punch it at the end of pit road."
-- Short strokes: Chase drivers dominated Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour, occupying 13 of the top 15 positions on the speed chart. The only exceptions were the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets of Kasey Kahne and Alex Bowman, who were third and 10th, respectively. ... A Friday penalty levied against Chase Elliott's No. 24 team could also prove costly to fellow Chase driver Brad Keselowski. Demoted to last pick of pit stalls because of four written warnings for pre-qualifying inspection failures, Elliott's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, was left with stall No. 5, directly behind that of Keselowski. ... Elliott starts 10th and Keselowski begins 11th in Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300, and if Elliott manages to stay in front of Keselowski's No. 2 Ford, Elliott will pit first and force Keselowski to drive around him on the way to his stall. That could cost the 2012 series champion precious fractions of a second, and those fractions could translate to valuable positions on the track.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LOUDON, N.H. -- A wreck in practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the last thing Austin Dillon needed.
After a 14th-place finish last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in the first race of the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Dillon needs a strong run at New Hampshire to escape the bottom four in the standings.
But with the Round of 16 elimination race looming Oct. 1 at Dover, Dillon had his weekend start catastrophically at the Magic Mile, site of Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
On his ninth lap in opening practice at NHMS, the driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet posted his fastest lap at 132.813 mph, but that was only 32nd quickest among the 40 drivers. Dillon ran only one more lap before flattening the right side of his Chevy against the outside wall and damaging the car beyond repair.
"I just tried to get some speed in the car, and it didn't work out, truthfully, is what I think happened," Dillon said. "I don't know. The brakes were bothering me a little bit throughout the day, but I think it was just me trying to get some."
Out rolled the backup car, which couldn't be readied before practice ended. Consequently, Dillon was faced with the prospect of qualifying the car -- at a relatively flat speedway where track position is of paramount importance -- with no seat time whatsoever.
Consequently, the hole Dillon dug for himself at Chicagoland suddenly became the Grand Canyon.
The good news for Dillon is that the race for the top 12 in points is extremely tight. Carl Edwards is ninth in the standings, but just five points ahead of Dillon and Kevin Harvick, who are tied for 13th and just one point behind 12th-place Tony Stewart.
With such a tightly bunched field, Dillon can move up with a strong showing at New Hampshire, but he can't afford another glitch in his program.
CAN TEAM PENSKE NASCAR DRIVERS MATCH INDYCAR SUCCESS?
The 2016 season is the 50th for Team Penske, and owner Roger Penske already has had plenty of reason to celebrate.
Last Sunday, Penske drivers finished 1-2-3 in the IndyCar championship final standings, with Simon Pagenaud winning the title and teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves second and third, respectively.
The icing on Penske's cake would be a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, to go with the one Brad Keselowski won in 2012, and driver Joey Logano says there's already significant pressure to deliver a another title to the Captain.
"They finished 1-2-3, so holy moly," Logano said of his IndyCar counterparts. "I don't know if you want to call it added pressure, but I think there's plenty on us already, and I think we're better under pressure. I like that. Fifty years for Team Penske. For them to do that on the 50th Anniversary is very special and it's really cool to be somewhat a part of that.
"I feel like I'm part of the team -- even the IndyCar team. There are a lot of guys that are cross-pollinated throughout our company. ... It makes the NASCAR guys want to go out here and continue this awesome year that Team Penske has had so far, and Brad and I have a great shot at it.
"What if we finished one-two at Homestead? How cool would that be? We have an amazing opportunity to do that. We've got a long ways to go to get there, but we can do it."
BYRON EXPECTS HEIGHTENED INTENSITY IN TRUCK SERIES CHASE
William Byron's aggressive approach to racing earned the 18-year-old five victories as a rookie and top seeding in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase.
So why change anything now that the Chase is ready to start? Racing for wins has worked so far, and that's what the driver of the No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota expects to do in Saturday's Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1).
"This is a place I like coming to, and I think it's going to be a solid weekend," Byron said. "Ultimately, you just want to have good, solid fishes this first round, hopefully, but if you can go for a win, definitely go for it.
"We're planning on going for a win and seeing what speed we have in our Liberty University Tundra this weekend."
Even though Byron's on-track approach won't change appreciably, he expects the intensity level of the Chase to increase exponentially.
"Definitely so," Byron said. "I think the competition and intensity is going to ramp up here in the last seven races. We've seen that in the Cup Series, and so now we're going to be able to experience that here in the Truck Series.
"So I'm looking forward to it. I think our team is ready for it. We have the right trucks lined up, and we're going to race tracks that we really enjoy coming to, so I'm looking forward to it."
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Matt Kenseth has to be one of the happiest drivers in NASCAR right now.
He currently sits seventh on the Chase Grid -- 11 points ahead of Austin Dillon on the cutoff line -- and gets to head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he has won the last two races, for Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Following New Hampshire, he'll travel to Dover -- where he won the May race -- for the final event of the Chase's Round of 16.
"It will only help us in the first round if we win at them again, but New Hampshire has been a really good track for us the last few years," Kenseth said. "Dover has been a little up and down, particularly our performances in the dominating car, and it wasn't last time either, we were just kind of in the right place at the right time and able to hang on. But that's a track I really enjoy as well."
Kenseth has excelled at New Hampshire over his last six starts there, recording three wins, a fourth-place showing, a sixth-place result, and a 21st-place outlier.
"We've had really good cars there since I've been at Joe Gibbs Racing," Kenseth said. "It used to be a track that I sort of dreaded ... but the last three years it's been pretty good."
Kenseth, 44, who won the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, explained the key to a second title does not simply entail going to tracks where you've seen success.
"There's a lot of great race teams and drivers in it and we have to figure out how to beat those guys every week," he said. "It's a tough task."
Jones, Suárez embark on NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase
Joe Gibbs Racing's Erik Jones and Daniel Suárez should be considered among the drivers to beat for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
During a Tuesday media availability at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, both described the challenges of racing as teammates, but also as individual competitors, when the NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase playoffs kick off Saturday with the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
"The teammate deal is always tough in racing and it's been tough since racing's been around," said Jones, who leads Xfinity Series regulars with four wins this season. "So there's times when you have to race like teammates and there's times you have to race like competitors and you can't be teammates at times.
"It's a tough balance for sure, but it's also nice when you go to the race track and have other drivers to lean on and you can get information from them and better each other."
Suárez didn't agree with Jones' sentiments, but didn't totally dismiss them either.
"I don't really agree with what Erik just mentioned," said the 24-year-old Mexican, who has one win and 20 top-10 finishes this season. "I think it's very helpful through the practice and qualifying having all that extra information of a good teammate to try to put a good race car together for the race. He just mentioned it though, it's hard to balance that because both of us want to race hard for wins, but at the same time we have to take care of ourselves to not wreck each other.
"I think both of us have a shot to be competitive every single weekend of the Chase and hopefully both of us can make it to Homestead and have some fun in the second half of the race."
Jones and Suárez should start the Chase off well. In the July race at Kentucky, Suárez finished third, while Jones placed fourth. Jones was leading the race on the next-to-last restart on Lap 180-of-201 when he failed to keep pace with the pace car, forcing him to fall back to third before the race resumed.
"Hopefully we're in the same position where we're up front and challenging for a win and we can get a win early on (in the Chase)," Jones said. "But Kentucky is a place I like. I really liked the old surface a lot, but I really like the new surface as well. It was pretty good to us earlier this year, so I expect to be pretty good."
Byron hopes to win Truck Series Chase
With 10 races left in the season, William Byron already boasts a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie-record five wins.
When the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase kicks off with Saturday's UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1), the 18-year-old Liberty University student will attempt to join Erik Jones (Camping World) and Chase Elliott (Xfinity) as the only rookies to capture NASCAR national series championships.
"I think it's going to be intense, especially with it being the first Chase race anyone has ever done in the Truck Series," Byron said. "I think drivers will start out pretty conservative, but by the end the intensity is going to ramp up since winning is the only way to be locked into the next round. I think New Hampshire is one of my better race tracks. I really like it and hopefully that translates to some speed this weekend.
"We need to get our Liberty University Tundra fast in practice to make sure we qualify well because track position is pretty important there. We want to start out the Chase with a really solid run and just have the right focus and mentality as we get going."
Byron registered one of his four wins at New Hampshire on the way to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship last season.
He explained he has to be aggressive during the Chase, but also needs to be careful if the opportunity isn't there.
"I think you go for the win if you are in that position, but if your truck is not that good that day you can't cost yourself a finish," Byron said. "You just can't make mistakes that way. If you do have a chance for a win, you go for it, but if you don't, you have to get a top-five or top-10 finish. The important thing for us is to try and be solid."
Race Weekend Preview
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Bad Boy Off Road 300
Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 317.4 miles (300 laps)
What To Watch For: Martin Truex Jr. goes for his second win of the Chase. ... Tony Stewart, who finished runner-up at New Hampshire in July, currently holds the final transfer spot to the Round of 12 as he goes for his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. ... Joey Logano, from Middletown, Connecticut, tries for his third career win at his home track. ... Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Chase Elliott attempts to build momentum off his third-place finish at Chicagoland.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Race: VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300
Place: Kentucky Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
What To Watch For: Twelve drivers will compete for the championship in the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase. ... Regular season points leader Elliott Sadler embarks on his quest for his first career NASCAR national series championship. He finished second in the Xfinity Series standings in 2012 and 2013. Sadler is the only driver to earn a berth in both the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2004) and the NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase (2016). ... Chase driver Brendan Gaughan won at Kentucky in 2014. ... NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney takes the wheel of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. He is the defending race winner.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: UNOH 175
Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 181.5 miles (175 laps)
What To Watch For: Eight drivers will compete for the championship in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. ... Chase drivers Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters, John Hunter Nemechek and Daniel Hemric finished second through sixth, respectively, in last year's New Hampshire race. ... Kaz Grala, from nearby Westborough, Mass., makes his seventh career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start. ... NASCAR Next alum Cameron Hayley goes for his seventh top-10 finish in the last eight races. ... Cole Custer, who became the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history in the New Hampshire race two years ago, attempts to visit Victory Lane for the third time in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career.
Twice this year, the sanctioning body has come out with rules only to discover serious flaws. The first time was in the Sprint All-Star race in Charlotte in May. Since that was a non-points exhibition race, the sanctioning body merely emerged with egg on its face after fans were totally confused by half the field being held a lap down in a scenario unanticipated by the sanctioning body.
This time, the Sprint Cup championship is on the line and every point matters. So a team owner like Hendrick was unlikely to sit by and wait for NASCAR to dock his driver Jimmie Johnson 10 points for failing the post-race laser inspection at Chicagoland. Especially when race winner Martin Truex, Jr., who also failed the laser inspection, claimed the victory and advanced to the second round of the Chase.
This is another case where it's difficult for fans to understand - or accept - that there's a level playing field. That's the long-stated goal for NASCAR and its fundamental stock in trade.
Fans have taken exception to the sanctioning body's rules enforcement ever since it was created due to easily fabricated conspiracy theories - some of which may well have been accurate. But it was black-and-white after the Chicagoland race when it appeared Johnson could fall to 12th place among the 16 drivers trying to advance to the Round of 12 while Truex, Jr. was rewarded with advancement despite a similar violation.
NASCAR once again has acknowledged its new rules, this time about "encumbered finishes," didn't measure up. Instead of docking Johnson the standard P2 penalty on Wednesday for failing the post-race laser inspection, NASCAR said no penalty would be invoked and that going forward penalties for minor infractions would be treated the same way.
In other words, NASCAR will now rely more heavily on the check-up at the Laser Inspection Station before the race rather than a visit to the LIS after the race. In effect, it will allow that conditions during lengthy races could well result in a different measurement of the toe in the rear tires, an area where teams can create a "skew" in the chassis that generates faster cornering speeds.
This is a longstanding problem generated by the new low downforce packages at the beginning of the 2015 season, which is one key reason why the LIS was brought in for "before and after" inspections at the beginning of this year. Teams were believed to be figuring out ways to change the degree of toe in the rear tires - racers will be racers, after all - during races. Those teams who weren't party to this approach naturally got bent out of shape when they suspected others were.
That may be one reason why Kevin Harvick deliberately hammered the left rear of Truex, Jr.'s Toyota late in the Chicagoland race. Perhaps he believes the Toyota's speed has been coming from rear toe violations that went undetected even by the LIS measurements and was angrily trying to "bend" the Toyota beyond its ability to pass the post-race inspection.
There are other problems with post-race measurements.
Shortly before the Chase began, Ryan Newman's chances of making it to the Round of 16 were severely hampered after his Chevy hit the wall at the Darlington Raceway. That's not an unusual event, but NASCAR fined him 15 points for having the right rear toe "skewed" once the race was over.
That put Newman in the position of virtually having to win the following race in Richmond, Va., to make the Chase. His subsequent frustrated efforts there and run-in with Tony Stewart have been well documented.
Now apparently exasperated, NASCAR has decided it will inspect all Chase participants after the races instead of the top finishing cars and selected others - such as a driver like Johnson, who led the most laps at Chicagoland but finished poorly due to a pit road speeding violation.
Minor violations such as tires being ever so slightly out of whack from regulations will not result in a P2 penalty as previously. Only cars that have both rear tires "skewed" are guaranteed to be declared encumbered and disqualified from advancing in the Chase.
Officials apparently thought the threat of being declared encumbered at the sanctioning body's discretion - such as one rear tire seriously off on the toe measurement - would be enough to discourage any fudging. They didn't see the Truex, Jr. and Johnson scenario coming.
The suggestion here is to use a "stepped series" of penalties. One P2 violation per round of the Chase would be accepted. Two would result in a 10-point penalty being applied in the next round of the Chase and a third would result in a 15-point penalty, also being applied in the next round of the Chase. A winning driver found to be in violation would automatically receive a 10-point penalty in the following round to discourage "fudging" in order to advance.
If the idea is to make sure the drivers advancing to the championship finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway got there by complying with the same rules as everybody else, then this would work to discourage taking the risk of going over the edge in set-ups or finding ways to change the toe during races.
As for the Homestead race, declare specific rules on an acceptable degree of toe in the rear tires when measured after the race and teams can decide how much they want to risk contact with the wall or another competitor might cost them if they are "encumbered" at the finish.
As with the current rule, a driver could win the race and lose the championship on the basis of post-race inspection. That's not desirable for the sport and fans, but it seems only a doomsday scenario is a sufficient deterrent.
There remains the specter of one driver bashing another in an attempt to skew the post-race inspection. The same result can be achieved on a re-start in a more surreptitious manner. This raises the delicate question of NASCAR re-entering the arena of mid-race penalties for aggressive driving and using judgment calls to enforce, say, drive-through penalties. But that may be what it takes to keep the playing field level if drivers and teams are not satisfied that NASCAR is enforcing its rules.
TV: Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 p.m. ET -- NBCSN (Radio: Performance Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: This will be the 44th Sprint Cup race held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It will also be the second race of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs. Matt Kenseth has won the last two races at NHMS: last year's Chase race and this July's race there. ... Martin Truex Jr. kicked off the Chase with a win in the opening race at Chicagoland Speedway this past Sunday. It was Truex's third win of the season thus far. ... A total of 13 different drivers have won at least one race thus far in the first 27 races this season: Brad Keselowski (4 wins), Kyle Busch (4), Martin Truex Jr. (3), Denny Hamlin (3), Carl Edwards (2), Jimmie Johnson (2), Matt Kenseth (2), Kevin Harvick (2) and one win each by Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Chris Buescher and Kyle Larson. ... With his win at Chicagoland, Truex took over the lead in the Sprint Cup point standings. He holds a one-point edge over second-ranked Brad Keselowski. The rest of the 16 Chase drivers and how far behind Truex: Kyle Busch (-4), Denny Hamlin (-5), Joey Logano (-7), Chase Elliott (-11), Matt Kenseth (-12), Jimmie Johnson (-13), Carl Edwards (-18), Kurt Busch (-19), Jamie McMurray (-20), Tony Stewart (-22), Austin Dillon (-23), Kevin Harvick (-23), Kyle Larson (-24) and Chris Buescher (-34).
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: VISITMYRTLEBEACH.COM 300, (200 laps, 300 miles), Kentucky Speedway; Sparta, Ky.
TV: Saturday, Sept. 24, 8 p.m. ET -- NBCSN (Radio: Performance Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Saturday will mark the 21st time the Xfinity Series has raced at Kentucky Speedway. Ryan Blaney is the defending winner of this race, while Kyle Busch won there earlier this year in July. ... Saturday's race will also mark the start of the inaugural Chase for the Championship in the Xfinity Series. ... Erik Jones won last Saturday's Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland. By winning that race, Jones becomes the No. 1 seed in the 12-driver Chase field. The other 11 drivers and the number of points they are behind Jones heading into Saturday's race are Elliott Sadler (-6), Daniel Suarez (-9), and the remaining nine drivers are all 12 points behind Jones, tied for fourth: Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brendan Gaughan, Brennan Poole, Ryan Sieg, Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Blake Koch. ... Winners of the first 26 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Texas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Richmond), Austin Dillon (Fontana, Bristol), Erik Jones (Bristol, Dover, Iowa and Chicago), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond), Elliott Sadler (Talladega, Darlington), Denny Hamlin (Charlotte), Kyle Larson (Pocono), Daniel Suarez (Michigan), Sam Hornish Jr. (Iowa), Aric Almirola (Daytona), Joey Logano (Watkins Glen), Justin Marks (Mid-Ohio) and Michael McDowell (Road America).
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: UNOH 175 (175 laps, 185.2 miles), New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Loudon, N.H.
TV: Saturday, Sept. 24, 1 p.m. ET -- Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Performance Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: This will be the 19th Truck Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Austin Dillon is the defending winner. ... Kyle Busch has won three of the last five Truck races at NHMS. ... Saturday's race will mark the inaugural event of the seven-race Truck Series' Chase for the Championship format. Eight drivers will make up the Chase field: Points leader William Byron, Matt Crafton (-9), John Hunter Nemechek (-9), Christopher Bell (-12), Johnny Sauter (-12), Ben Kennedy (-12), Daniel Hemric (-15) and Timothy Peters (-15). ... Kyle Busch won the last regular-season Truck Series race last Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. ... There have been nine winners thus far this season: Johnny Sauter (Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta, Canada), Kyle Busch (Martinsville, Chicagoland), William Byron (Kansas, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky and Pocono), Matt Crafton (Dover, Charlotte), Christopher Bell (Gateway), Kyle Larson (Eldora), Ben Kennedy (Bristol) and Brett Moffitt (Michigan).
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: 2016 season has concluded.
THEN AND NOW: The IndyCar season wrapped up last Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Simon Pagenaud won both the race and his first career IndyCar championship. It was his fifth win in the 16-race season, with all five triumphs coming on four road courses and one temporary street course. ... Will Power finished second in the championship battle, followed by Helio Castroneves, giving Team Penske a 1-2-3 finish in the company's 50th year of racing. Josef Newgarden finished fourth, followed by Graham Rahal, 2015 champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz in 10th. ... Sunday marked the 11th consecutive season that the series' championship was decided in the final race. ... Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished 12th in the season standings, welcomed his third son into the world with wife Beccy last Wednesday. Tragically, less than 24 hours later, Beccy's father -- noted off-road racing champion Bob Gordon -- and his wife were found dead in their Orange, Calif., home. Police are calling the incident a murder-suicide. Gordon is also the father of former NASCAR driver and current Stadium SuperTrucks Series owner and driver Robby Gordon. ... This season's race winners were: Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix, Watkins Glen), Simon Pagenaud (Long Beach, Birmingham, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Belle Isle 1), Will Power (Belle Isle 2, Road America, Toronto, Pocono), Josef Newgarden (Iowa) and Graham Rahal (Texas). ... 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has re-signed through 2020 with Andretti Autosport and with primary sponsor DHL Express. ... There have been numerous unconfirmed reports in recent days that Josef Newgarden will be joining Team Penske in 2017, replacing Juan Pablo Montoya. Ironically, Montoya could potentially replace Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing. There also have been reports that Montoya may remain with Team Penske, but will shift to a full-time ride for the organization in the IMSA Sports Car series. ... Speaking of IMSA, Pagenaud's "offseason" was pretty short. It was announced Wednesday that he will race in the upcoming IMSA Petit LeMans race at Road Atlanta. ... Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi is reportedly close to signing a three-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport.
NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION, MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: AAA INSURANCE MIDWEST NATIONALS, Gateway Motorsports Park; Madison, Ill. (suburban St. Louis).
TV: Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. ET -- Fox Sports 1.
THEN AND NOW: The NHRA's six-race Countdown to the Championship got underway last weekend at zMAX Dragway in suburban Charlotte, N.C. Winners of the four pro categories were: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Of note, it was Brown's second consecutive win in the Countdown opener. Also, Force, who has won a record 16 Funny Car championships, earned a record 146th Funny Car win of his career. Also, Ellis won his seventh career PSM race but the first since 2008. ... Also of note, two-time defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders suffered a major setback to potentially earning a third straight championship this season when she failed to qualify for last Sunday's final eliminations. Enders is now essentially in a must-win situation for the remaining five races -- and that still might not be enough, given how far back she now is in the points. ... Next weekend's race at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa., has been named the Dodge Nationals. ... Here are the updated standings after the first of the six Countdown races -- TOP FUEL: 1. Antron Brown; 2. Doug Kalitta (-42); 3. Steve Torrence (-100); 4. Brittany Force (-116); 5. Tony Schumacher (-127); 6. J.R. Todd (-152); 7. Shawn Langdon (-159) 8. Leah Pritchett (-172); 9. Clay Millican (-174); 10. Richie Crampton (-180). FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Del Worsham (-42); 3. John Force (-50); 4. Tommy Johnson Jr. (-62); 5. Matt Hagan (-72); 6. Courtney Force (-100); 7. Robert Hight (-101); 8. Jack Beckman (-110); 9. 9.Tim Wilkerson (-127); 10. Alexis DeJoria (-158). PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line; 2. Greg Anderson (-50); 3. Vincent Nobile (-104); 4. Bo Butner (-110); 5. Allen Johnson (-138); 6. Chris McGaha (-151); 7. Shane Gray (-152); 8. Drew Skillman (-160); 9. Jeg Coughlin (-181); 10. Erica Enders (-213). PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines; 2. Chip Ellis (-44); 3. Angelle Sampey (-49); 4. Eddie Krawiec (-85); 5. LE Tonglet IV (-99); 6. Jerry Savoie (-106); 7. Hector Arana Jr. (-122); 8. Hector Arana (-1533); 9. Matt Smith (-163); 10. Cory Reed (-173).
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a first-person account from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano about his childhood memories attending New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as well as his successful career at his home race track. New Hampshire will host Sunday's Sprint Cup race, the Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
I remember the first time I went to New Hampshire was in 1997, when I was seven years old. My family camped out by Turn 2, back there behind all the midway activities for the weekend. We were there for the weekend and watched the modified race, the Busch North race -- at the time that's what the K&N Pro Series East was called -- and the Cup race.
My family actually still has a photo album of the trip. I got pictures of the cars when they came out and practiced. Looking back on it, I guess that really was my first memory of NASCAR racing. It's cool that I remember it, but I think everyone remembers the time you go to your first NASCAR race.
One thing I remember is when I got to meet Jeff Gordon that weekend, which was awesome because I grew up a huge Jeff Gordon fan. He was leaving an appearance and I was one of those people that kind of sat there on the side, waiting for him to come out. There he was and I got a picture with him.
It's funny -- I still have the picture. We talked about it and showed it on a couple of NASCAR shows last year when Jeff was doing his farewell tour. My Mom's thumb got over the lens of the camera, so it's one of those pictures with a thumb in it.
My Mom got Jeff to sign the photo a couple of years back and she framed it for me with another photo of Jeff and I sitting on the pit wall before driver intros. It's a pretty cool memento and something that links one of my first memories with where I am today.
To me, New Hampshire is something special. Really special. Every driver out there has their favorite track and a place that means more to them than others, even if they don't always tell you. New Hampshire is that place for me.
I guess it started when I was just a fan and I went to that race and met Jeff Gordon. Then, when I moved into driving, things still just happened there. I started my first Sprint Cup race there in the No. 96 car back in 2008. Then I won my first Sprint Cup race there the next year in the No. 20.
But the most memorable moment to me was when we won there a couple of years ago in the fall race of 2014. That win was hands down the coolest win of my career. The Daytona 500 was neat. I mean who doesn't grow up wanting to be a race car driver and not want to win the Daytona 500. But the New Hampshire win beats it in my opinion.
I think you can start to see why. For one, it's my home track. Any win any driver gets at their home track is special. That is why my teammate, Brad Keselowski, wants to win at Michigan so bad. It's on every driver's bucket list.
On top of that, it was the most challenging, most difficult track I went to as a driver. I sucked there. I literally did not know how to go fast. I remember one time we unloaded there and I started complaining about how bad the car was. Then, I look up and we were P1 on the board. I said, "I don't know how to do this then. I don't know what to tell you, because to me, it drives awful and we're fast."
So over time, I started figuring out that I need this and I need that, and got the car kind of feeling the way it's supposed to. I had a lot of conversations with my crew chief, Todd Gordon, and we've worked together to make it better. Eventually, we conquered the hardest track for me -- and my home track -- so it's all just worked out and it showed on the track.
That win in 2014 was just awesome for me personally. I don't ever get out of the car at the start finish line (after a win). I just want to get to Victory Lane and celebrate with the team. But that was one of those moments where I thought: "I'm getting out of the car, I'm standing on top of it, I'm going to enjoy this moment." It's going to be hard to have a win that's larger than that.
Something else that I love about New Hampshire is the fans. They love NASCAR racing and racing in general in the Northeast. It's what got me to be a fan of the sport. I hope they grab some tickets (nascar.com/tickets) and come out for an amazing weekend of racing when we go back up there this weekend. You go to Loudon as a New England guy and those are your people.
So we try to take advantage of every situation when we're up there to look for ways to help, especially with the "Chasing Second Chances" initiative through the Joey Logano Foundation. We did our golf tournament in Connecticut with the spring race, and a lot of people were able to come to it.
To me, all of this racing stuff is great and all, but it's a platform to change people's lives. I feel like it's my calling. I'm supposed to use that.
It's a privilege to have that opportunity to do what you're supposed to do in this world. So, yeah, I want to win races and I want to win championships, but I want to do something more with the platform that God's given me. So through the Joey Logano Foundation and through the Chasing Second Chances program, we're trying to give people another shot at life in the New England area who were the victims of something out of their control or just made a bad decision and are working to make their life better.
In all honesty, the whole Chasing Second Chances throughout the next nine weeks (of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) is a big deal. A lot of cool things for the next nine weeks.
A rookie, Chase Elliott, led 75 laps and almost won his first career Sprint Cup victory before losing it in overtime.
A six-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, goofed in a speedy way and then his car got caught in post-race laser inspection.
Kevin Harvick was back to shoving others, this time not waiting until he got to the motor home parking lot. Instead, he slammed the eventual winning Toyota of Martin Truex, Jr. with his Chevy on the straight at the Chicagoland Speedway.
There was a lottery when it came to who got the faulty Goodyear tires, some of which came apart. Truex, Jr. was struck -- this time by misfortune -- and had to come from a lap down to win it in overtime. Another victim was Kyle Larson, who had a potential Top 5 finish aborted by an unscheduled pit stop late in the race
When it was over, word arrived that Regan Smith, who usually drives for Tommy Baldwin, Jr., and his wife were celebrating the birth of a daughter. And then the shadow of a potential "encumbered finish" fell when winner Truex, Jr., in addition to Johnson, was found to have minor infractions while running the gauntlet of the Laser Inspection Station after the race.
The left rear tire of Truex, Jr. was outside the specification for the toe measurement by 0.01 degrees. That threatened a remarkable comeback and perhaps this was Harvick's intent when he slammed the Furniture Row Racing's left rear.
"I was freakin' door-slammed," was Truex, Jr.'s comment on the radio. After the race he was equally explicit. "Going down the straightaway, it's pretty hard to run into somebody."
If there's any doubt about the passion when it comes to winning the Sprint Cup, consider 2014 champion Harvick, who had three major setbacks before the incident with Truex, Jr.
First Harvick was forced to start from the back of the field when NASCAR officials determined changes had been made to the bodywork of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy somewhere between pre-race inspection and the car being pushed to the starting grid.
After dashing through the field to eighth place, Harvick was next frustrated because of just plain bad luck on the day's first caution. It fell just after Harvick had pitted early due to tires worn by his extraordinary push to the front from the back. He went from a potential second place on the re-start to a lap down -- because race leader Truex, Jr. hit the start-finish line on the track just before Harvick could get his Chevy across it in the pits.
On the next green flag stint Truex, Jr. had his tire difficulty and pitted. With fresh tires, he passed Harvick to get into the Lucky Dog position -- denying it to Harvick, who spent much of the race a lap down before finishing 20th. Along the way, he elected to bash the left rear of Truex, Jr. as he came through the field.
Perhaps Harvick was hoping to intentionally affect the outcome of the post-race inspection as well as vent his frustration. The impact was just enough to damage the left rear without crashing Truex, Jr. And perhaps it almost succeeded when the left rear of the Furniture Row Racing failed post-race laser inspection on that side.
In any event, Harvick declined all questions from the electronic and print media after the race. Before the race, however, he tweeted a video of an escaped bull raging through fans in a bullfight stadium, saying it demonstrated how his attitude was going to be during the Chase.
NASCAR decided the infraction of 0.01 degrees on the Furniture Row Chevy was not enough to warrant anything other than a P2 penalty, which will be announced later this week. That lifted the specter of an "encumbered finish," which would have denied Truex, Jr. advancement to the Round of 12, the second round of the Chase that begins in three weeks.
The pre-race and post-race laser inspection is new this year to the Sprint Cup. The regulations on tire toe are designed to prevent teams from achieving excessive "skew" in the chassis by how the rear tires are aligned, which can improve cornering speed.
Prior to the opening round of the Chase, NASCAR officials clarified how it would use the LIS results in the course of the championship pursuit. Only a scenario where both rear tires are wrong on the toe measurements would automatically result in a victory being "encumbered" and not qualifying a driver to advance in the Chase.
Johnson was a two-time loser despite leading 118 laps -- after getting the race lead in the pits under that same first caution that left hapless Harvick a lap down. Johnson was dumbstruck by his own error of speeding while exiting the pit road and in contention for the victory with 30 laps to go. One can only imagine what Johnson's thinking was when he heard his car failed the laser inspection. Because he didn't win and advance as a result, his post-race inspection problem will cost him considerably more than the fine and points setback of Truex, Jr.
If the standard P2 penalty for a minor infraction applies to Johnson when NASCAR makes its weekly announcement on penalties, he will lose 10 points and drop into a tie with Austin Dillon and Harvick for 12th in the point standings among Chase contenders. Since only 12 drivers advance to the next round, it's a pretty serious penalty for Johnson.
In the final analysis, all of the major teams contesting the championship proved to be fast at Chicagoland. The Chevy entries of Hendrick (Johnson and Elliott), Stewart-Haas (Harvick) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Larson) were contenders despite either bad racing, bad luck or errors. The Fords of Team Penske finished second (Joey Logano) and fifth (Brad Keselowski).
The previously dominant Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing were only in the lead for 21 laps in the form of Kyle Busch's No. 18, which started on the pole due to points after qualifying was rained out. But if Truex, Jr., who led 32 laps, could come from a lap down to win in his JGR-affiliated Toyota in overtime, then it's likely the JGR cars will come loaded for bear at the second race of the Round of 16 in New Hampshire this weekend.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
JOLIET, Ill. -- Jimmie Johnson had mixed feelings about his 12th-place run in Sunday's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
On the positive side, Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet showed excellent speed in the opening race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The six-time Sprint Cup champion led a race-high 118 laps, but he drew a pit road speeding penalty during a green-flag stop on lap 234 of 270, and that infraction cost Johnson a shot at victory. After serving a pass-through penalty, he fell to 18th in the running order but rallied to finish 12th.
"(I'm) very proud of this Lowe's team, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports," Johnson said. "We're digging. I'm just... I just can't believe I got in trouble down there leaving the pits. I feel terrible for these guys.
"It should have been a top-five day, but I will back down pit road (speed) even more and try not to make that mistake. Hats off to the team for our fast Lowe's Chevrolet. I just screwed up."
The penalty took Johnson completely by surprise.
"I'm making adjustments, and I was dumbfounded that happened," he said. "You can't argue it. Maybe a mistake on our part somewhere, definitely a mistake on my side, but I by no way, shape or form thought that I was speeding.
"I was probably the slowest down pit road all day just to try to avoid it -- and got nailed. I will soak on it tonight and come back next week and be at 100 percent again and get ready to take this Lowe's car to Victory Lane."
Johnson leaves Chicagoland eighth in the Chase standings, but his position may be in jeopardy after his No. 48 Chevrolet failed post-race laser inspection station by a slight margin. If NASCAR imposes a penalty for the infraction, it will be announced later this week.
Logano starts Chase with runner-up finish
Joey Logano had a fast car at Chicagoland--just not quite fast enough to move through traffic and lead laps.
But the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford took advantage of fresh tires on an overtime restart and surged from sixth to second in the final two laps, trailing only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 winner Martin Truex Jr. at the finish of the opening race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
"Just overall very proud of what this 22 team was able to do all weekend," Logano said. "Brought a very fast race car, one that was capable of running top-three for sure. Just took us a while to get to that point."
Logano led only one lap, and that came during a cycle of green-flag pit stops late in the race. But Todd Gordon brought the No. 22 Ford to the pits under the final caution, and Logano took full advantage.
"Any time a caution comes out late like that, that's the definition of pressure for a pit crew," Logano said. "You're in the Chase, there's a lot on the line, you're coming down to the end to win a race. They executed and beat the 11 (Denny Hamlin) off of pit road.
"Couldn't be more proud of the way they handled the pressure and the way the pressure made them better. That's pretty neat. It's a big thing to look forward to through the next nine weeks. We can handle it. Showed it today. Can't wait to get to New Hampshire and continue this momentum.
"Obviously a second place finish gives us a decent cushion for the next couple races, but we got to keep attacking the way we are right now."
Gamble pays off for Blaney
Being outside of the Chase field can have certain advantages.
Ryan Blaney and Wood Brothers Racing crew chief Jeremy Bullins knew they had absolutely nothing to lose when they opted to stay out on old tires and led the field to green for a two-lap overtime in Sunday's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Though Blaney was a sitting duck for the new tires of race winner Martin Truex Jr., Blaney held fourth place in the first Chase race, narrowly losing a drag race to Chase Elliott for the third position.
"The decision wasn't difficult at all," Blaney said of the choice to stay out. "We kind of made that decision before everyone else came, and we had nothing to lose as far as points. I wish a couple more cars stayed out.
"You never know. Those guys were on me so fast. We had a really good car all day. We started way back in the field (22nd) and made it up there pretty quickly. We got our car decent at the end. We gambled, and I prefer to do that. I prefer to take a gamble to stay out and try to hold those guys off."
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400
Sunday, September 18, 2016
1. (6) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 270.
2. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 270.
3. (14) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 270.
4. (22) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 270.
5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 270.
6. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 270.
7. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 270.
8. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 270.
9. (7) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 270.
10. (17) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, 270.
11. (16) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 270.
12. (8) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 270.
13. (12) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 270.
14. (15) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 270.
15. (5) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 270.
16. (11) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 270.
17. (21) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 270.
18. (10) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 269.
19. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 269.
20. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 269.
21. (26) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 269.
22. (28) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 269.
23. (20) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 269.
24. (25) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 269.
25. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 268.
26. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, 268.
27. (33) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 268.
28. (13) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 268.
29. (31) Landon Cassill, Ford, 267.
30. (35) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 267.
31. (34) Brian Scott #, Ford, 266.
32. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, 266.
33. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 265.
34. (29) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 265.
35. (32) David Ragan, Toyota, 265.
36. (36) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 263.
37. (30) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 262.
38. (40) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 260.
39. (39) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 257.
40. (38) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 254.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 145.161 mph.
Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 47 Mins, 24 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.776 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 4 for 22 laps.
Lead Changes: 17 among 9 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-21; M. Truex Jr 22-51; B. Keselowski 52; J. Johnson 53-102; B. Keselowski 103-105; J. Johnson 106-120; C. Elliott # 121; J. Johnson 122-170; B. Keselowski 171-173; J. Johnson 174-177; C. Elliott # 178-234; D. Hamlin 235-236; J. Logano 237; R. Blaney # 238-242; A. Bowman(i) 243-248; C. Elliott # 249-265; R. Blaney # 266-268; M. Truex Jr 269-270.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Johnson 4 times for 118 laps; C. Elliott # 3 times for 75 laps; M. Truex Jr 2 times for 32 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 21 laps; R. Blaney # 2 times for 8 laps; B. Keselowski 3 times for 7 laps; A. Bowman(i) 1 time for 6 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 2 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 16 in Points: M. Truex Jr -- 2,050; B. Keselowski -- 2,049; Kyle Busch -- 2,046; D. Hamlin -- 2,045; J. Logano -- 2,043; C. Elliott # -- 2,039; M. Kenseth -- 2,038; J. Johnson -- 2,037; C. Edwards -- 2,032; Kurt Busch -- 2,031; J. Mcmurray -- 2,030; T. Stewart -- 2,028; A. Dillon -- 2,027; K. Harvick -- 2,027; K. Larson -- 2,026; C. Buescher # -- 2,016.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
JOLIET, Ill. -- Daniel Hemric, who qualified for the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase in the No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford on Friday night, will drive full time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet next season, RCR announced Saturday.
Hemric's sponsor, crew chief and car number will be named at a later date.
"This is such a great opportunity for me," said Hemric. "There aren't words that can describe what racing for RCR means to me, especially considering everything they have done as an organization for our sport. I'm excited to now officially be a small part of the company and am looking forward to working with everyone in Welcome, North Carolina.
"We will hit the ground running in February at Daytona. With all the talent and experience RCR has in the XFINITY Series, I'm confident we can compete for wins and contend for the championship."
Brad Keselowski, Hemric's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team owner, wished his driver well in his new venture.
"We are very happy for Daniel, and I'm really proud of what he's accomplished with Brad Keselowski Racing in 2016," Keselowski said. "One of the things we wanted to do at BKR is give talented young drivers an opportunity to take the next step in their career.
"He has proven to me that he's capable of being an elite level guy at the top of this sport. We hope to finish off this season with our first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship."
Logano: Concept of encumbered wins necessary
It's akin to creating something you hope you never have to use.
Heading into the Chase, NASCAR's codification of the rules governing laser inspection station failures and lug nut infractions has been met with a favorable response among competitors who rely on a level playing field to determine the championship.
Earlier this week, NASCAR clarified the concept of an encumbered victory, where a driver would keep the trophy but would lose the other accompanying benefits of a win. In other words, with an encumbered victory, a driver would not advance automatically to the next round of the Chase.
The idea is to take the "reward" out of a risk/reward equation where the "risk" involves a blatant infraction of the rules to gain a competitive advantage.
"It's a rule that had to be made," said Team Penske driver Joey Logano. "In my opinion, if you are in a do-or-die situation, you can hammer down and screw your stuff up, and if the penalty is 15 points and $50,000, well then I got the win and I'm moving on. You have to do something that takes the next-round berth away.
"Unless we're just going to have the wild, wild West and have stuff sideways and take the penalty. NASCAR had to do something about it. That was something that was talked about through a lot of the (drivers') council meetings, and everyone came up with a plan for what they felt was acceptable and what they felt was not acceptable, and NASCAR has done a good job of laying down that rule.
"They had to make the rule, for sure."
Kyle Larson led final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice with a lap at 183.299 mph, followed by Sunoco rookie Chase Elliott at 182.883 mph. But Jimmie Johnson continued to dominate the fastest 10-lap average category, running 179.687 mph on his first through 10th laps. Elliott was second to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in 10-lap average at 178.724 mph.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
JOLIET, Ill. - If you're looking for a driver with a strong head of steam entering the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, you're probably not thinking of Jimmie Johnson.
The only driver to have qualified for every Chase since the inception of NASCAR's playoff format in 2004, Johnson is seeking his seventh Sprint Cup title this year, but no one, it seems, is talking about the prospect of a record-tying championship.
That's because, statistically speaking, the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is suffering through his least productive season at NASCAR's highest level-ever.
Consider the following numbers. With 10 top-10 finishes through 26 races, Johnson will have to finish in the top 10 in each of the Chase races just to match his lowest career total of 20 in a season (2003 and 2014). With 266 laps led so far this year (and only 51 since the ninth race of the season at Richmond), Johnson is on pace for a career low in that category; in 2005 he led 547 laps.
Johnson has two victories this season, none since the fifth event of the year, at Fontana, Calif. Only once before, in 2011, has Johnson won as few as two races in a season. His average finish of 15.3 is tied for a career worst established in 2014.
So why was Johnson smiling when he fielded questions from reporters during Thursday's Ready.Set.Chase Launch Event in Chicago?
Perhaps because the Chase is about to start. Perhaps because the 10 Chase tracks fall right into the No. 48 team's wheelhouse. And perhaps because Johnson has won six of the last 10 high-speed playoffs in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Nevertheless, Johnson doesn't enjoy his position as a handicapper's also-ran.
"No," he said emphatically. "Hell, I'd rather be dominating and be on top and be the top pick. I don't like where we're at. We're working hard. There's a lot of optimism and a lot of great things happening. We just need to deliver consistently and execute at the track. "The way that the Chase works, if we can run in the top five and stay alive and make it to Homestead, you know, we do have some time to sort things out and get back to where we need to be."
Staying alive until Homestead has been a problem for the 48 team in the first two years of the Chase's elimination format. Johnson made it to the second round in 2014 before exiting after Talladega. Last year, a mechanical failure knocked him out in the first round at Dover-one of his best two tracks.
Though listeners to the team radio have often noted a palpable tension between the driver and crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson says his relationship with Knaus isn't the problem in and of itself.
"It's a frustrating journey when you're off," Johnson said. "When you're on, it's easy, practically. If we were being outrun by our teammates week in and week out, we weren't the lead car at Hendrick, we'd probably have to look real hard at the relationship between me and Chad.
"But with that not being the case, we're just frustrated. The things that are seen and heard, the unhappiness is due to the competitive spirit in both of us. We don't want to roll over. We don't want to be in the position we're in. I guess that's where that frustration comes from."
Even though Johnson doesn't enter this Chase as one of the favorites, however, it would be a mistake to count him out prematurely.
"You can't ever discount him and Chad Knaus and what they've been able to accomplish in this sport over the last decade," said defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch. "So that's why you always put them in there."
It's the Chase, after all, and of the 120 Chase races held so far, Johnson has won 26. No other driver is within light years of that total.
And, oh, by the way, when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finally got on the track on Friday evening, after rain disrupted the opening-day schedule, the fastest car in the hour-long practice session at 183.780 mph was the No. 48.
--After last Saturday's accident at Richmond-not to mentioned the harsh words that followed-Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart met with NASCAR officials for roughly 30 minutes on Friday and appeared to have their differences settled when they emerged from the sanctioning body's hauler. Stewart summed it up: "As far as we're concerned, it's over," he said.
--Cole Custer will drive the new NASCAR XFINITY Series entry for Stewart-Haas Racing next year. Currently driving the No. 00 Camping World Truck Series entry for JR Motorsports, Custer will take the wheel of an identically numbered Mustang near year, as SHR debuts its XFINITY program in its transition year from Chevrolet to Ford...
--A bout with the flu kept Brendan Gaughan out of the No. 62 Chevrolet during Friday's XFINITY Series practice. Austin Dillon subbed for Gaughan in the Richard Childress Racing entry. Brother Ty Dillon filled in for Regan Smith in Tommy Baldwin's No. 7 Sprint Cup Chevrolet on Friday after Smith returned to North Carolina for the birth of his child...
--Alex Bowman, subbing for sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr., was sixth fastest at 182.285 mph and the top non-Chase driver in Friday's Sprint Cup practice session, but Bowman spun the No. 88 Chevrolet while trying to enter pit road on his final lap. Bowman, however, avoided contact with the walls. Defending race winner Denny Hamlin was third fastest at 182.927 mph.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
JOLIET, Ill. -- When rain forced cancellation of Friday's knockout qualifying session for Sunday's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Kyle Busch was the primary beneficiary.
As the top seed in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and with his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota seeded first in the corresponding owners' standings, Busch will start on the pole at the 1.5-mile track for the first of the 10 playoff races that will decide the 2016 champion.
Busch also will get first pick of pit stalls, with the corresponding advantage of choosing the stall nearest the exit from pit road.
Brad Keselowski, who like Busch recorded a series-best four victories during the 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, will start on the outside of the front row, as the 16 Chase drivers take the green flag from the top 16 positions, according to respective seeding.
A three-time winner thanks to last Saturday's victory at Richmond, Denny Hamlin will start third beside Kevin Harvick, the highest-seeded driver with two wins.
Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. will take the green from fifth and sixth, respectively, with Matt Kenseth in seventh, as Toyota drivers occupy five of the top seven starting positions. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray are eighth through 16th on the grid, respectively.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400
Friday, September 16, 2016
1. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 1st.
2. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 2nd.
3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 3rd.
4. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 4th.
5. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 5th.
6. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 6th.
7. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 7th.
8. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 8th.
9. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 9th.
10. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 10th.
11. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 11th.
12. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 12th.
13. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 13th.
14. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 14th.
15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 15th.
16. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 16th.
17. (88) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 17th.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 18th.
19. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 19th.
20. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 20th.
21. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 21st.
22. (21) * Ryan Blaney #, Ford, Open Team Owner Points - 22nd.
23. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 23rd.
24. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 24th.
25. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 25th.
26. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 26th.
27. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 27th.
28. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 28th.
29. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 29th.
30. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 30th.
31. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 31st.
32. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 32nd.
33. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 33rd.
34. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 34th.
35. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Charter Team Owner Points - 35th.
36. (98) * Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Open Team Owner Points - 36th.
37. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Charter Team Owner Points - 37th.
38. (32) Joey Gase(i), Ford, Charter Team Owner Points - 38th.
39. (55) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Open Team Owner Points - 39th.
40. (30) * Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Open Team Owner Points - 40th.
Feuds are simmering and Tony Stewart is back in a fighting mood. And NASCAR has posted notice that it will crack down on teams in the Chase who fail the post-race laser inspection or commit serious lug nut violations. Any of these scenarios could alter the outcome of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
When he initially tangled with Stewart at Richmond International Raceway last weekend, Ryan Newman was desperate to make the Chase - or even find a competitive team next year. Newman's silly post-race comments calling Stewart "bi-polar" and the more heinous hint that Stewart intentionally ran over Kevin Ward, Jr. in a 2014 sprint car accident will not help Newman during his coming free agency.
Looking ahead to the Chase, Newman will have to think about how to recover his waning career, so one wouldn't expect more contretemps from him.
Stewart, on the other hand, enters the postseason as a guy any other Chase drivers will now be at pains to race carefully, lest they give rise to Terrible Tony. That's too bad given that this is the accomplished driver's final season. Taking out the cars of five other drivers and team owners in addition to his own while retaliating at Richmond was inexcusable and Stewart needs to ask himself what kind of driver and team co-owner he wants to be in his final Chase.
The bitter post-Richmond words about Brad Kewslowski from Matt Kenseth, by comparison, marks another stage of a long-simmering feud between the two drivers at Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing. This tangle could well continue during the Chase and once again have an influence on the outcome.
A four-time race winner this season, Keselowski is one of the favorites to win a second championship and Kenseth, now 44, has diminishing chances to get his second title and first under the Chase format. He might have made it to the final round last year absent getting punted by Penske's Joey Logano in Kansas.
Although NASCAR continues to allow drivers to "have at it," rules infringements when it comes to post-race inspections have been massaged significantly.
Martin Truex, Jr., another postseason favorite, narrowly escaped Richmond without damaging his Furniture Row Racing's prospects. But that could change in the next 10 weeks.
At Richmond, Truex, Jr. was docked 35 points and Crew Chief Cole Pearn was fined $15,000 for failing to get their Toyota through the post-race Laser Inspection Station (LIS) after finishing third and leading the most laps. Since the penalty came before the Chase begins, Furniture Row will start the postseason with points re-set like the other eligible teams plus the six bonus points earned for two victories this season.
This week, NASCAR announced new rules procedures that could result in a driver who wins a race not automatically qualifying for the next round of the Chase. And points penalties could result in stunting a driver's chance to advance.
Introducing a new emphasis on a phrase in its rule book, NASCAR officials have declared a circumstance resulting in a race winner's victory being considered an "encumbered finish." Long dedicated to allowing a race winner's result to stand even in the face of rule violations discovered in post-race inspection, the sanctioning body has decided to make sure a driver and team can't win a championship by thumbing its nose at the rules. The specific rule the sanctioning body has in mind is the toe measurements of the rear wheels and tires. If both rear tires fail the post-race inspection, the result will be considered "encumbered" and if occurring at Homestead will not win a championship.
NASCAR officials, as usual, are allowing themselves leeway when it comes to what constitutes a serious rule violation beyond the stated toe-in rules.
Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition, went out of his way to recognize that the violation by Furniture Row was not severe enough to constitute an "encumbered finish" on the rear toe-in basis. But even so, a P4 level penalty of 35 points for any Chase result and the possibility that NASCAR may not count a victory toward advancement to the next round are likely to be strong deterrents for fiddling with just one rear wheel tire's toe settings.
So far this season, the teams of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row have been issued points penalties for failing to pass the LIS. The majority of those violations have resulted from improper rear tire alignment, i.e. toe settings.
The other part of the "encumbered victory" rules announced this week includes the policing of lug nuts. If 17 of 20 lug nuts or fewer are in place for a winning car, the victory will not count toward advancing in the Chase. The special aspect of this "17 or less" rule is the automatic disqualification of the result in the final race at Homestead if it is committed by one of the four teams trying to win the Sprint Cup.
Both the post-race trip through the LIS and the lug nut rules are new to this season. Previously this year, NASCAR has fined suspended crew chiefs if one lug nut was missing in post-race inspection. Going forward, it would take two missing lug nuts to result in a crew chief suspension of one race plus a fine. If one lug nut is missing, a team will be fined $10,000 and a second violation would cost $20,000.
So look for some cars to be missing a lug nut in post-race inspection during the Chase, given the rewards of a Sprint Cup. But it's less likely teams will be failing a post-race laser inspection or show up with more than one lug missing.
Will this alter the balance of power when it comes to performance and pit stops? The teams eligible for the Chase that have been winning are likely to continue winning. But it's highly possible one driver gets caught out by the stricter approach to post-race inspections. Meanwhile, drivers may want to beware of the No. 14 of Stewart even when running for ninth or 10th place.
TV: Sunday, Sept. 18, 2:30 p.m. ET -- NBCSN (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: This will be the 16th Sprint Cup race held at Chicagoland Speedway. It also will kick off the start of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs. Brad Keselowski (who has won this race twice in the last four years) and Kyle Busch are the top seeds, while Denny Hamlin, who won this race last year, is the No. 3 seed. Hamlin comes into this race having won last Saturday in the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond. ... Tony Stewart is the winningest driver at Chicagoland with three wins (2004, 2007, 2011). Due to retire at season's end, Stewart will be making his last appearance at Chicagoland in Sunday's race. ... Keselowski (2012, 2014) and Kevin Harvick (2001, 2002) are the only other multi-race winners at Chicagoland. ... A total of 13 different drivers have won at least one race thus far in the first 22 races this season: Brad Keselowski (4 wins), Kyle Busch (4), Carl Edwards (2), Jimmie Johnson (2), Matt Kenseth (2), Denny Hamlin (2), Kevin Harvick (2) and one win each by Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Chris Buescher and Kyle Larson. ... The point standings have been re-set for the start of the Chase. Here are the rankings and points for each driver: First place (tie) -- Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski (2,012 points each), Third place -- Denny Hamlin (2,009 points), Fourth place (tie) -- Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson (2,006 points each), Ninth place (tie) -- Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher (2,003 points each), Fourteenth place -- Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray (2,000 points each).
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: DRIVE FOR SAFETY 300 (200 laps, 300 miles), Chicagoland Speedway; Joliet, Ill.
TV: Saturday, Sept. 17, 3 p.m. ET -- NBC (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: Saturday will mark the 21st time the Xfinity Series has raced at Chicagoland. From 2011 through 2015, the series raced twice a year there. That was scaled back to just one race in 2016, which will be held Saturday. Defending winner of this race is Kyle Busch, who has won four Xfinity races at Chicagoland. Erik Jones won the 2015 spring race there. ... Kyle Busch won last Friday's race at Richmond, his sixth career Xfinity victory there. ... Winners of the first 25 Xfinity Series races this season have been Chase Elliott (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Texas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Richmond), Austin Dillon (Fontana, Bristol), Erik Jones (Bristol, Dover and Iowa), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Richmond), Elliott Sadler (Talladega, Darlington), Denny Hamlin (Charlotte), Kyle Larson (Pocono), Daniel Suarez (Michigan), Sam Hornish Jr. (Iowa), Aric Almirola (Daytona), Joey Logano (Watkins Glen), Justin Marks (Mid-Ohio) and Michael McDowell (Road America). ... Elliott Sadler (852 points) remains No. 1 in the Xfinity Series points standings. Daniel Suarez (794) is second, followed by Justin Allgaier (786), Ty Dillon (777), Brendan Gaughan (755), Erik Jones (753), Brennan Poole (736), Brandon Jones (702), Darrell Wallace Jr. (659) and Ryan Reed (626).
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: AMERICAN ETHANOL E15 225 (150 laps, 225 miles), Chicagoland Speedway; Joliet, Ill.
TV: Friday, Sept. 16, 8:30 p.m. ET -- Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM Channel 90).
THEN AND NOW: This will be the eighth Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. John Hunter Nemechek is the defending winner. ... Kyle Busch has won four of the seven Truck races at Chicagoland. ... Matt Tifft, who has been sidelined after brain surgery in early July, will return to racing for Red Horse Racing in Friday's race. ... Nemechek won the most recent Truck Series race nearly three weeks ago at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park outside Toronto in a wild finish. Nemechek forced leader Cole Custer off the track and into the grass and continued on for his second win of the season. Custer was incensed at the move and tackled Nemechek, who was waiting for the checkered flag at the finish line. Custer led 39 laps and finished second despite being forced off-track. ... There have been eight winners thus far this season: Johnny Sauter (Daytona), John Hunter Nemechek (Atlanta, Canada), Kyle Busch (Martinsville), William Byron (Kansas, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky and Pocono), Matt Crafton (Dover, Charlotte), Christopher Bell (Gateway), Kyle Larson (Eldora), Ben Kennedy (Bristol) and Brett Moffitt (Michigan). ... William Byron remains in the Truck Series points lead (402 points), followed by Daniel Hemric (374), Johnny Sauter (356), Matt Crafton (352), Timothy Peters (350), Ben Kennedy (334), Christopher Bell (333), John Hunter Nemechek (324), Cole Custer (318) and Cameron Hayley (312).
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA (85 laps, 195.8 miles), Sonoma Raceway; Sonoma, Calif.
TV: Sunday, Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m. ET -- NBCSN (Radio: IndyCar Radio Network).
THEN AND NOW: This is the 12th IndyCar race at the well-known road course north of San Francisco and the 16th race of this season. ... This will also be the championship-deciding 2016 season finale. Only two drivers remain eligible to win the championship -- points leader Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, both Team Penske teammates. Pagenaud comes into the race with a 43-points lead over Power. ... A unique aspect of this race is that points will be doubled for all drivers. ... Scott Dixon is the defending winner of this race (which also led to Dixon winning the championship). In addition, this will be the 11th consecutive season finale that the IndyCar championship will be decided in the final race. ... This season's race winners thus far are: Juan Pablo Montoya (St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix, Watkins Glen), Simon Pagenaud (Long Beach, Birmingham, Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Belle Isle 1), Will Power (Belle Isle 2, Road America, Toronto, Pocono), Josef Newgarden (Iowa) and Graham Rahal (Texas).
NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION, MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: CAROLINA NHRA NATIONALS, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. (suburban Charlotte).
TV: Sunday, Sept. 18, 2:30 p.m. -- 5:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1).
THEN AND NOW: After another outstanding Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals two weeks ago at Indianapolis -- the biggest race of the NHRA season -- the encore begins this weekend with the start of the six-race Countdown to the Championship. The first race, at the so-called Bellagio of drag racing, zMAX Dragway, promises to set the tone for the playoffs. ... Going back to Indy for a few moments, Tony Schumacher won the Traxxas Shootout for Top Fuel racers, while Courtney Force won the Traxxas Shootout for Funny Cars. Both drivers earned $100,000 for their respective victories. ... Schumacher also won the U.S. Nationals' Top Fuel class for a record 10th time in 21 years. Other winners of the sport's most prestigious race were Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle). ... With the points standings being reset for the Countdown, here are the 10 drivers/riders in each of the four professional classes that will square off in the playoffs: TOP FUEL: 1. Antron Brown 2,110; 2. Doug Kalitta 2,080; 3. Steve Torrence 2,070; 4.Tony Schumacher 2,060; 5. Brittany Force 2,050; 6. J.R. Todd 2,040, 7. Shawn Langdon 2,030; 8. Clay Millican 2,020; 9. Richie Crampton 2,010; 10. Leah Pritchett 2,000. FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps 2,110; 2. Del Worsham 2,080; 3. Matt Hagan 2,070; 4. Courtney Force 2,060; 5. Jack Beckman 2,050; 6. Robert Hight 2,040; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr. 2,030; 8. John Force 2,020; 9.Tim Wilkerson 2,010; 10. Alexis DeJoria 2,000. PRO STOCK: 1. Jason Line 2,110; 2. Greg Anderson 2,080; 3. Bo Butner 2,070; 4. Allen Johnson 2,060; 5. Vincent Nobile 2,050; 6. Drew Skillman 2,040; 7. Chris McGaha 2,030; 8. Shane Gray 2,020; 9. Erica Enders 2,010; 10. Jeg Coughlin 2,000. PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines 2,110 points; 2. Eddie Krawiec 2,080; 3. Angelle Sampey 2,070; 4. Jerry Savoie 2,060; 5. LE Tonglet 2,050; 6. Chip Ellis 2,040; 7. Hector Arana Jr. 2,030; 8. Hector Arana 2,020; 9. Matt Smith 2,010; Cory Reed 2,000.
Hamlin scored his third victory of the regular season at the Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night and his Joe Gibbs Racing team has momentum on its side headed into next weekend's first round of the Chase in Chicago.
The final race of NASCAR's regular season ended with no changes among those chasing the final 16 berths in the Chase. Chris Buescher, who needed to stay in the Top 30 in points to gain admission after his upset victory in Pocono, Pa. this summer, had a close call due to a flat tire. But the rookie hung on to gain admission for his underdog Front Row Motorsports team.
But to win the Chase, Hamlin and the other 15 qualified drivers will have to survive three elimination rounds and then come out ahead in the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hamlin, who now has nine bonus points, nominated himself to be one of those in the mix at Homestead where four drivers will settle the championship, but who else is likely to join him among the final four?
Here is one writer's opinion about the most likely finalists -- Hamlin, defending champ Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr.
If there is such a thing as a sentimental favorite, Hamlin qualifies. Hamlin was touted as a future champion until a disastrous finale at Homestead in 2010, when he lost a duel with Jimmie Johnson. Bouncing back from a broken back suffered in a crash at Fontana, Calif., he made it to the final round in the first year of the elimination format in 2014, finishing third.
This year, Hamlin was inspired on the final lap to win the Daytona 500, which has provided a bounce in momentum throughout the season, which included a win at Watkins Glen International. Given that the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has been the most dominant team this year, surely the No. 11 team's poor performance in preparing and pitting Toyotas during last year's Chase will not be repeated. As it is, Hamlin's victory was an eighth straight Top 10 finish.
It appeared Truex Jr. might emerge from Richmond with the most momentum headed into next week's first round of the postseason in Chicago. But after leading the majority of the first 244 laps in the Furniture Row Racing Toyota, Truex was busted for speeding on the pit road and lost an opportunity for a third victory this season.
That error was symptomatic of the Furniture Row team's up-and-down season. Coming into Richmond, Truex Jr. was in position to contend for a victory in 18 of the season's 25 races, but often snafus resulted in a two-win season despite 1,041 laps led.
But having made the Chase's final round last year in a Chevy, this year Furniture Row is affiliated with the juggernaut of the JGR team and uses the same Toyota chassis. So Truex, Jr. is odds on to make another appearance in the elimination finale in Homestead.
Driving for JGR, Kyle Busch was the second driver to get four victories in the regular season. The defending champion, Busch had four victories coming into last year's Chase despite an injury-shortened season. Unlike his previous Chases, Busch weathered some problems with an emotional equilibrium that was unusual compared to his previous postseason campaigns.
After no victories in the first three rounds last year, Busch dominated at Homestead to win the title. There's reason to believe Busch, who has 12 bonus points, will evidence the same even-tempered approach as last year, even if there have been some testy times in the regular season.
Busch's ace in the hole is his Gibbs team, where he has been the dominant driver in the Sprint Cup's most dominant team. Busch may not have won since his impressive Brickyard 400 performance, but on Friday at Richmond he took his eighth Xfinity Series victory of the season, which certainly helps his momentum.
This season's first four-race winner was Keselowski of Team Penske. At this stage of his career, Keselowski is regarded as a driver who will win multiple championships after scoring the first NASCAR championships for Roger Penske in both the Xfinity series and Sprint Cup. With his 2012 title experience and 12 bonus points entering this year's Chase, Keselowski can be expected to continue the consistent performances that put him second only to Kevin Harvick in the points during the regular season.
In addition to the strength of Penske Fords and a solid teammate in Joey Logano to borrow set-up info from if necessary, Keselowski is a master restrictor plate racer, which will help his bid. Two of his victories came at the Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. One more round at Talladega remains during the second round of the Chase, a race that arguably presents a bigger hurdle than any other track.
Of these four drivers, the pick here is for Keselowski to win it all for a second time behind the wheel of a Team Penske Ford. Keselowski has become one of the most feisty and opportunistic drivers in the field. While the Gibbs team has been strong across the board, Keselowski has been a regular contender and consistent in the points in the face of the four-car onslaught of Gibbs, plus the Toyota of Truex, Jr. The Roush-Yates Ford engines can be expected to provide plenty of power to compete with the Toyotas.
To win the title, Keselowski will likely have to win at Homestead for the first time, but that's not a major hurdle for a driver of his talent and a team with the depth of Penske.
The back-up picks for the final round include two former champions, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick, one near-miss champion, Carl Edwards, and Logano.
Harvick has been the most consistent driver in the Sprint Cup since 2014, when he clinched his first title by winning at Homestead. Currently first in the points by a wide margin, Harvick is in position to advance to the final four in either points or with victories.
Harvick has been a winner at each of the Chase tracks except Texas, but after the meltdown in the pits by his Stewart-Haas Racing crew at the Darlington Raceway, a question mark remains. SHR has replaced the front tire changer and tire carrier after a switch with the crew of teammate Danica Patrick. But Harvick now has the devilish problem of getting caught speeding at Richmond on Saturday night after his complaints about the pit crew in Darlington. Those bitter complaints were made on TV shortly after the end of the race, so one has to wonder about the team chemistry. As it is, his two victories give him six bonus points.
Edwards came as close to the title as possible without winning it in 2011, when he tied Tony Stewart in the points and lost the title on the tie-breaker of most victories. Edwards might have scored a third victory in his JGR Toyota had he been more aggressive in Phoenix on the last lap, but then manned up by banging Busch out of the way to win at Richmond. If Edwards maintains his aggression and his characteristic smoothness, he could well make it to the final round.
Kenseth appeared to have momentum on his side in last year's Chase when leading late in the race at Kansas. But when he was rammed out of the lead by Logano, the season fell apart. Kenseth dumped Logano in Martinsville, Va., after once again getting bumped out of contention by a Penske Ford, this one belonging to Keselowski.
This year, Kenseth, a two-time winner, appears to have recovered better from that controversial Kansas/Martinsville series of events than Logano. Kenseth is almost guaranteed to get the most out of his cars in any given race. Since JGR team has been the most dominant team throughout the season, perhaps Kenseth will be the one to advance to the finals.
For his part, Logano has been consistent in the points this year in addition to his one dominant victory in Michigan after last year's six-win season. It appears that Logano has been intimidated into being less reckless with his enormous talent. Calculated moves and consistency may work for Logano this year to get to the final four once again after making it in the first year of the elimination format in 2014.
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- The official announcement came this past week, but that doesn't mean Chris Gayle hasn't been working behind the scenes in the Toyota camp.
Gayle, who called the action from the pit box in Kyle Busch's NASCAR XFINITY Series victory on Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, will move to Furniture Row Racing next season to guide the efforts of Sprint Cup rookie Erik Jones.
Though Jones won't get a head start on his transition from XFINITY to Sprint Cup by running races at NASCAR's highest level this year, Gayle already has been spending Sunday afternoons at the track, observing and learning.
And though Gayle has won eight XFINITY events with Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing this season, his is not exactly a household name. In fact, the only "Chris Gayle" with a current Wikipedia entry is a Jamaican cricketer.
But Furniture Row, which enjoys factory support from Toyota Racing Development and a technical partnership with JGR, expects Gayle to make a name for himself in short order as the crew chief for one of the sport's rising stars.
And Gayle, 40, is using the rest of the season to get ready for the step up to Sprint Cup.
"On staying on Sundays and working, that's kind of already started to happen," Gayle said Friday night after the win at Richmond, site of Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). "You guys probably didn't know, but I've been around for the last couple weeks if you've been watching a little bit, so I've kind of been doing that for a little bit and we'll continue to do that for the rest of the year.
"Maybe not Furniture Row per se, but it gives me kind of a unique perspective for all the Toyota teams to kind of see how everybody's doing things different and kind of mold my team how I want to, based on the goods and the bads of what I learn over the next 10, 11 races."
TWO NEW MEMBERS OF 500 CLUB
Coincidentally, both Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray came to Richmond with 499 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Though Biffle, 46, is more than six years older than his Chip Ganassi Racing counterpart, who turned 40 in June, both drivers started their Sprint Cup careers in 2002, when Biffle ran seven races and McMurray six.
McMurray, who won at Charlotte in his second start in relief of injured Sterling Marlin in 2002, has a string of 497 consecutive starts entering Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Biffle competed in 35 of 36 races in 2003, failing to qualify for the third race of the season, at Las Vegas. Since then, he has run 490 events without a miss.
McMurray has seven career victories to his credit, the last one coming at Talladega in 2013. Biffle has won 19 times, taking the checkered flag most recently at Michigan that same year.
But Biffle and McMurray arrived at Richmond for the Chase cutoff race with vastly different agendas. Biffle's only route to NASCAR's 10-race playoff is to win the race. McMurray simply needs to maintain any part of his 22-point edge over Ryan Newman to qualify, provided a winless driver behind him in the Chase standings -- like Biffle, for example -- doesn't win the race.
HARVICK WITH TWO NEW CREWMEN
Changing pit crew members for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is nothing new to Kevin Harvick. Before winning the 2014 championship, Harvick's team appropriated teammate/team owner Tony Stewart's over-the-wall gang lock, stock and barrel.
This week, after losing 17 positions on pit road over the course of last Sunday's race at Darlington, thanks to a disastrous performance by his crew, Harvick looked to Danica Patrick's team for help. The front-tire combination of Eric Maycroft (changer) and Matt Holzbaur (carrier) moves from Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet to Harvick's No. 4.
Changer Tim Sheets and carrier Todd Drakulich go from Harvick's car to that of Patrick, who came to Richmond needing a first career victory to qualify for the Chase. Harvick and teammates Stewart and Kurt Busch already are locked into the playoff.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- With one ferociously fast pit stop, Kyle Busch erased a lackluster qualifying effort and cruised to victory in Friday night's Virginia529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway.
A master at getting on and off pit road in minimal time, Busch entered the pits in fourth place under the first caution of the race after a tap from J.J. Yeley sent Justin Marks spinning into the frontstretch grass on Lap 48.
Busch was first off pit road - decisively -- and at that point it was game over, thanks for playing, and Busch was well on the way to his sixth NASCAR XFINITY Series victory at Richmond, his eighth in 14 starts this season and the 84th of his career, extending his own gargantuan series record.
"I never would have guessed that," Busch exulted on the team radio before he started his celebratory burnout. "Great pit stop! Awesome!"
Before the second caution flew on Lap 164 of 250, Busch had a lead of 7.312 seconds and had lapped up to eighth place in the running order before a cycle of green-flag stops began.
Busch finished 6.453 seconds ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and runner-up Erik Jones, who ran the same setup Busch had in his No. 18 Toyota. The victory marked a decisive return to form for the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, who had crashed out of his two previous XFINITY races.
"I just doubted our car today," said Busch, who led 197 laps and scored a perfect driver rating of 150.0. "It just wasn't right. We just kind of missed it all through practice. It wasn't good there, and then we qualified, and it was just a handful in qualifying. We didn't qualify very well -- seventh. That's not very well for my expectations.
"We worked on it there at the start of the race. We were really out of control and loose, and I got to fourth, I thought that was kind where we were going to be. But my guys had an awesome pit stop, got me out front, and (crew chief) Chris Gayle made some really smart adjustments to it that first time on pit road.
"After that, it was lights out. It was on a rail from there."
Jones could only admire the skill of his more experienced teammate -- when he was close enough to see Busch ahead of him, that is.
"Not much to say," said Jones, whose two laps led during a cycle of green-flag pit stops constituted the only interruption to Busch's charge to the finish. "He had the same setup as us. He's just that good. It's unfortunate. We've run second to him a number of times this year.
"I wish all those were wins, but we've been getting stronger every time."
Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by XFINITY regulars Elliott Sadler, the series leader, and Justin Allgaier. Ty Dillon, polesitter Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman and Brennan Poole completed the top 10.
Ryan Reed, the last driver to finish on the lead lap, clinched a spot in the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase with an 11th-place run, leaving two berths still open heading to the Sept. 17 cutoff race at Chicagoland Speedway.
NASCAR XFINITY Series Race - Virginia529 College Savings 250
Richmond International Raceway
Friday, September 09, 2016
1. (7) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 250.
2. (4) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 250.
3. (6) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 250.
4. (8) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 250.
5. (3) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 250.
6. (18) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 250.
7. (1) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 250.
8. (10) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 250.
9. (2) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 250.
10. (31) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 250.
11. (17) Ryan Reed, Ford, 250.
12. (14) Darrell Wallace, Jr., Ford, 249.
13. (11) Gray Gaulding, Ford, 248.
14. (19) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 248.
15. (5) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 248.
16. (9) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 247.
17. (12) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 247.
18. (20) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 247.
19. (13) Jeb Burton, Ford, 247.
20. (23) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 246.
21. (27) David Starr, Chevrolet, 246.
22. (25) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 246.
23. (33) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 245.
24. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 245.
25. (29) Ray Black, Jr. #, Chevrolet, 245.
26. (16) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 244.
27. (22) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 244.
28. (21) Hermie Sadler III, Toyota, 244.
29. (26) Brandon Brown(i), Chevrolet, 243.
30. (28) Clint King, Ford, 243.
31. (32) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 243.
32. (39) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 239.
33. (34) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, 238.
34. (35) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 236.
35. (36) Brandon Hightower, Dodge, 235.
36. (38) Alli Owens, Chevrolet, Clutch, 156.
37. (40) Austin Theriault(i), Chevrolet, Overheating, 84.
38. (37) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Oil Leak, 51.
39. (30) Timmy Hill(i), Dodge, Electrical, 21.
40. (24) Matt DiBenedetto(i), Toyota, Vibration, 4.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 103.687 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 48 Mins, 30 Secs. Margin of Victory: 6.453 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 2 for 14 laps.
Lead Changes: 3 among 3 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Dillon(i) 1-51; K. Busch(i) 52-157; E. Jones # 158-159; K. Busch(i) 160-250.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Busch(i) 2 times for 197 laps; A. Dillon(i) 1 time for 51 laps; E. Jones # 1 time for 2 laps.
Top 10 in Points: E. Sadler - 852; D. Suarez - 794; J. Allgaier - 786; T. Dillon - 777; B. Gaughan - 755; E. Jones # - 753; B. Poole # - 736; B. Jones # - 702; D. Wallace, Jr. - 659; R. Reed - 626.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- Don't tell Denny Hamlin his first pole of the season isn't significant.
In the money round of Friday's knockout qualifying session, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota toured .75-mile Richmond International Raceway in 22.069 seconds (122.344 mph) to earn the top starting spot for Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the final race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season.
"I thought for sure we had too many laps on our tires," said Hamlin, who qualified in the top 10 for the 24th consecutive race. "A lot of the guys that we were challenging only had one lap per session, but my car didn't really come in that quick, so I had to run multiple laps.
"And on a short track that wears out tires, I thought we were at a huge disadvantage. Just proud of the effort. ... And, obviously, running that fast for that many laps tells us we have a really good car for the long runs. So pretty optimistic, and we'll see if we can't get a win."
Though Hamlin edged Kyle Larson by .010 seconds to earn his first Coors Light Pole Award of 2016, his third at Richmond and the 24th of his career, the real drama of Friday afternoon involved drivers who qualified deeper in the field -- in some cases, much deeper.
Pocono winner Chris Buescher, who is fighting to stay in the top 30 in the standings and thereby earn a Chase spot, qualified a disappointing 31st. Adding to the stress of the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford was the qualifying performance of David Ragan, who is 31st in points and immediately behind Buescher.
Ragan was 19th fastest in the first round of knockout qualifying, 12 positions better than Buescher. The problem? Buescher is just 11 points ahead of Ragan entering Saturday's race, with each position worth one point. Ragan slipped to 21st in the second round and failed to advance, meaning he'll start the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota 10 spots on the grid ahead of Buescher -- too far for the rookie driver to enjoy a comfortable night's sleep.
Buescher also can stay in the top 30 if he finishes 10 spots ahead of Landon Cassill, his teammate.
"That's not where we wanted to be in qualifying with our CSX Ford Fusion," Buescher said. "We were a little better than we were last time here, so there is a little bit of positive to it, believe it or not. We'll be able to work our way up.
"At the end of the day, this weekend is about something bigger. We're trying to stay out of trouble and be there at the end. It won't be an easy walk from where we are at right now, but we'll be able to work our way up."
Jamie McMurray (122.189 mph) took control of another important head-to-head matchup, making the final round of qualifying and earning the fourth starting spot. The last driver currently in a Chase-eligible position on points, McMurray enters Saturday's race with a 22-point advantage over Ryan Newman, whose effort stalled in the second round.
Hit with a 15-point penalty on Wednesday after his No. 31 Chevrolet failed the laser inspection station after Sunday's race at Darlington, Newman will start 15th, likely needing a victory to advance to the Chase.
"Well, it's a really big weekend for us, but more than that, I'm just thrilled how both of our cars are running," said McMurray, Larson's teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing. "We've just made such big improvements.
"We ran good at a two-mile track at Michigan. We ran good at Darlington with a different rules package, and we've run good at a short track. As an organization, it's been really good, and the next 10 races, if we can get in, it's going to be pretty awesome, because our cars have peaked at the right time."
Austin Dillon, who starts on Saturday nine points ahead of McMurray, took a significant step toward his first-ever Chase spot with an eighth-place qualifying effort at 121.638 mph. At the other end of the spectrum, another driver likely to experience a sleepless night is Chase Elliott, who qualified 34th in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Elliott starts the night eight points ahead of Dillon and 17 ahead of McMurray. All three drivers share one hope, however -- that there's not a new 2016 winner currently outside the Chase grid to reduce the number of Chase spots available on points from three to two (assuming Buescher remains in the top 30).
"We're just not going fast enough, for sure," Elliott said after failing to reach the second round. "I really don't know what our problem is, but we struggled in our mock runs earlier today, too. So, we just need to think about it, I guess, and try to go to work tonight.
"We're giving it our best effort. It just hasn't been where we need to be. The bad news is that it's a terrible starting spot; but the good news is that it's a long race tomorrow night. We have some teammates that are fast, so hopefully we can lean on them and try to get our Chevrolet a little better."
Matt Kenseth, Hamlin's teammate, qualified third. Kurt Busch, who paced the first two rounds, slipped to fifth in the session that decided the starting order of the top 12.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Federated Auto Parts 400
Richmond International Raceway
Friday, September 09, 2016
1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 122.344 mph.
2. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 122.288 mph.
3. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 122.244 mph.
4. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 122.189 mph.
5. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 122.144 mph.
6. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 122.045 mph.
7. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 122.045 mph.
8. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 121.638 mph.
9. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 121.457 mph.
10. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 120.951 mph.
11. (88) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 120.827 mph.
12. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 120.579 mph.
13. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 122.272 mph.
14. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 122.249 mph.
15. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 122.045 mph.
16. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 122.017 mph.
17. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 121.924 mph.
18. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 121.770 mph.
19. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 121.556 mph.
20. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 121.529 mph.
21. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 121.310 mph.
22. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 120.654 mph.
23. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 120.401 mph.
24. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 120.321 mph.
25. (93) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 122.299 mph.
26. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 122.294 mph.
27. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 122.288 mph.
28. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 122.266 mph.
29. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 122.161 mph.
30. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 122.078 mph.
31. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 121.957 mph.
32. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 121.935 mph.
33. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 121.781 mph.
34. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 121.775 mph.
35. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 121.540 mph.
36. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 121.250 mph.
37. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 121.245 mph.
38. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 120.924 mph.
39. (83) Dylan Lupton(i), Toyota, 120.208 mph.
40. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 120.182 mph.
1 driver failed to qualify.
41. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 119.899 mph.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
RICHMOND, Va. -- Though Austin Dillon is likely to secure a career-first spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the list of variables that could make his life more difficult is no small matter.
Certainly, it would ease Dillon's path to the Chase if Saturday's race produces a repeat winner. Under that scenario, Dillon would simply have to maintain any part of the 31-point edge he currently holds over Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman.
Even with a first-time 2016 winner, other than Chase Elliott (who is one spot ahead of Dillon on the Chase grid), Dillon can make the 10-race playoff by keeping Jamie McMurray at bay. Dillon currently leads McMurray by nine points.
And if Chris Buescher, who won at Pocono in August, happens to drop out of the top 30 in points, Dillon is in the Chase: 1) if there's a repeat winner or; 2) if he keeps Newman behind him in the standings in the event of a new winner.
Obviously, Dillon also would clinch if he wins the race.
Given the permutations, Dillon has to balance offense and defense in his approach to the race. But the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet knows there's a danger inherent in trying to modify his strategy based on the external framework of competition for Chase spots.
Dillon thinks the experience he gained in winning a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title in 2011 and an XFINITY Series championship in 2013 will help him negotiate the labyrinth of possibilities.
"I've had to do it before in my career with championship runs and stuff," Dillon said. "It's just you've got to stay focused and race like you would normally race. When you start really changing the vibe of things, it really gets hard that way.
"Things are going to happen that you don't plan for. How you react to them is kind of how it is going to end up. Just reacting the right way to everything that goes on (Saturday) night and knowing what we have to do to make it in the Chase -- having that in our head and just being smart about the choices we make."
Buescher's road to Chase clearly marked
Because he has a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in his pocket, Chris Buescher's path to a Chase spot is much more clearly defined than Austin Dillon's is.
Buescher needs merely to stay in the top 30 in the series standings, and for practical purposes, that involves staying ahead of or tied with 31st-place David Ragan, who trails Buescher by 11 points entering the final event of the 26-race regular-season.
"I think we pretty much know what we have to do here at Richmond," said Buescher, who finished 34th in April in his only Sprint Cup start at the track . "It's really pretty obvious. We're going to control what we can control and do our best to have a good, clean race. Stay out of trouble. All the normal things you try to do. Go out here and try to have a good run at Richmond.
"This is historically not one of my better tracks, but we've been making progress. Throughout practice (in hot temperatures on Friday), we were better than earlier in the spring. I'm happy about that. I wish it was a little cooler so we knew what we would have when it comes around to race time, but at the end of the day, we're all in the same boat and we will all figure it out together."
Fan Appreciation Weekend
As part of NASCAR's inaugural Fan Appreciation weekend, fans will be treated to a host of giveaways, prizes, autographs and more.
"I'm really excited about everything we have this weekend to recognize the fans. They are the heart-and-soul of this sport and the reason we're so passionate about what we do," said Richmond International Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier. "This goes far beyond Richmond International Raceway, as the entire industry has jumped on board to say 'Thank You, Fans.' "
The prizes have been donated from companies and teams like XFINITY, Monster, Roush-Fenway Racing, Sprint and MARS, and include an iPad Mini and a firesuit worn by Miss Sprint Cup.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Winless drivers get one more chance to make Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
"Win and you're in" is the name of the game in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, meaning if a driver visits Victory Lane in a race, he earns a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
Currently, 13 drivers have won a race this season, 12 of whom have clinched their spot in the Chase. Chris Buescher won at Pocono, but still needs to clinch a top-30 points spot at Richmond to official lock himself into a playoff position. The final three drivers -- Chase Elliott (plus-39), Austin Dillon (plus-31) and Jamie McMurray (plus-22) -- have hefty points leads over Ryan Newman, who sits on the cutoff line as the last competitor out of the 16-competitor contest.
While Newman can still qualify for the Chase on points with a little luck (or a victory), all the drivers behind him must win Sunday's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and be in the top 30 in points to secure a playoff berth.
The list of drivers behind Newman who must triumph includes notables Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick.
Newman (2003), Kahne (2005) and Bowyer (2008, 2012) are the only currently winless drivers who have won at Richmond in the past.
"I've always liked Richmond. I have been able to win here in the past and I look forward to the challenge," Kahne said. "I think you can bring a lot back from the day race (in April), but the bigger thing is the cars have changed since then. Even though it will be the same package, the teams have built better cars. We were really competitive in the first race, and I think we'll bring back a similar setup, but a better car, and work from there in practice."
Newman, who finished eighth last week at Darlington but was penalized 15 points after failing post-race inspection, enjoys racing at Richmond, where he owns an 11.7 career average finish.
"Richmond is one of the best, if not arguably, the best short track we go to just because you fight a little bit of everything," Newman said. "You have two different shaped corners, D-shaped tri-oval. There is a lot of braking and acceleration. Forward drive is usually at a premium. It's just that typical short track but it's the right size that fits our race car. It's a lot of fun."
Bowyer has struggled this season, which could be his first full-time campaign without a top-five finish. Still, anything can happen at a short track, especially one like Richmond where Bowyer has had success.
"Richmond is a fun, yet challenging, little racetrack," Bowyer said. "As long as you can figure out the balance between the different corners and find speed in your car, you've got a shot at taking the checkered (flag) there."
Anyone who's listened to Ty Dillon speak knows there's only one goal he has on his mind when getting on a race track: winning.
Although he's already captured a berth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase on the strength of his seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes, Dillon wants to celebrate in Victory Lane before it starts at Kentucky Speedway two races from now. His first chance will be in Friday's Virginia529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
"First off, we're super excited to be in the position that we are in and it's great to be able to compete for the championship," Dillon said. "We feel really good about the tracks we visit in each round of the Chase, considering we're heading back there for the second time for most of these tracks. That being said, we'd still like to win a race and carry some momentum into the first round at Kentucky Speedway."
The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing driver finished second in the April race at Richmond and has scored a top-10 finish in each of his last four starts there.
"We're going to be very aggressive this weekend at Richmond, and hopefully duplicate our efforts from the spring, where we ran second most of the day," Dillon said. "Richmond is pretty difficult from a technical standpoint, but we're ready for the challenge and hopefully finish one position better than last time."
Race Weekend Preview
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Federated Auto Parts 400
Place: Richmond International Raceway
Date and Time: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (400 laps)
What to Watch For: One race remains until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. This Saturday's Federated Auto Parts 400 will set the 16-driver field for the 10-race playoffs. ... Kevin Harvick enters the race in strong form after finishing first at Bristol, fourth at Michigan and second at Darlington. ... Southern 500 winner Martin Truex Jr. goes for his second straight victory. ... Carl Edwards tries to sweep this season's Richmond races. He used a last-lap pass of teammate Kyle Busch to win at the .75-mile track in April. ... Denny Hamlin -- the winningest driver from Virginia in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history with 28 victories -- goes for his third Richmond triumph.
NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: Virginia529 College Savings 250
Place: Richmond International Raceway
Date and Time: Friday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250 miles(187.5 laps)
What to Watch For: Drivers have two more chances to win before the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase kicks off at Kentucky. ... Brennan Poole, Brandon Jones and Darrell Wallace Jr. clinched Chase berths at Darlington. Three Chase berths remain for the 10-race playoff. ... Virginia native Elliott Sadler goes for his second straight win after taking the checkered flag at Darlington. ... NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch, Brad Keselwoski, Matt DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon will compete in Friday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race.
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond for the final event in the 26-race regular season, there are 19 drivers competing for the final four berths in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
That's right, 19 drivers who could qualifying for NASCAR's 10-race playoff if circumstances happen to fall the right way.
Among the 19, however, there's a vast disparity in the odds of success.
Eleven drivers can clinch a Chase spot only with a victory in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears and Landon Cassill are comfortably within the top 30 in the Sprint Cup standings, but their only path to the playoffs consists of winning at Richmond.
David Ragan (31st in points) and Regan Smith (32nd) face even longer odds. Each of those drivers can capture victory, they'll make the Chase only if they leap-frog past other drivers into the top 30 -- no small accomplishment.
In a poker game, the player who starts with the best hand is most likely to win the pot. Similarly, in the race for the Chase, Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher are most likely to earn spots in the playoff because they are starting with an advantage and control their own destinies.
If there is a repeat winner in the Sprint Cup series at Richmond, Elliott can clinch a Chase spot with a finish of 39th or better (40th if he leads a lap).
Clearly, Elliott shares one hope with the four other drivers he's battling for a Chase berth on points (Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne), namely that there's no new winner at Richmond -- unless, of course, they happen to be that new winner.
Take a look at how the math changes if there happens to be a new winner who isn't Elliott, Dillon, McMurray, Newman or Kahne. (And bear in mind that, in each case, a driver can finish one position lower with a lap led and two positions lower with most laps led).
With a new winner, Elliott can clinch a Chase spot with a finish of 17th. Dillon must finish eighth or better to clinch if there's a new winner, 30th if there's not.
McMurray's case for the Chase is the most complicated. If there's a repeat winner (or if Elliott or Dillon, the two winless drivers ahead of McMurray in the standings, happens to be a new winner), McMurray clinches a Chase spot with a finish of 21st or better.
Like Elliott, Dillon, Newman and Kahne, of course, McMurray clinches a Chase spot if he wins the race. If there's a repeat winner AND Buescher falls out of the top 30 in points, McMurray is playoff-bound regardless of his finish.
The 15-point penalty Newman incurred for his No. 31 Chevrolet's laser inspection station (LIS) failure after Sunday's race at Darlington put a serious crimp in his Chase hopes. Newman's best hope at this point is to win the race or to make up 22 points on McMurray and hope there's a repeat winner.
Newman has an average finish of 11.7 to McMurray's 20.1, but it's worth noting that McMurray has finished a career-best fourth in three of the last six Richmond races and no worse than 16th in that span. After the imposition of the 15-point penalty on Wednesday, Newman likely needs a McMurray disaster to advance to the Chase.
Kahne's road to the playoffs is even more difficult. To make the Chase on points, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet must hope for a repeat winner AND outscore Newman by either 22 or 23 points (depending on how the tiebreaker falls) AND must have Buescher fall out of the top 30.
That's a major long shot. Kahne's best hope is to win the race, and that's a scenario he's experienced before. Back in 2014, Kahne's win at Atlanta in the 25th event of the season got him into the Chase. This time, he'd have to win race No. 26 at the track that gave him the first of his 17 career victories in 2005.
For practical purposes, Buescher will make the Chase if he loses 11 or fewer points to Ragan, his closest pursuer.
For an outright clinch, Buescher needs to finish seventh (eighth with a lap led, ninth with most laps led), but chances are he won't need a top-10 run to qualify.
In fact, the odds favor the four drivers currently in Chase-eligible positions -- Buescher, Elliott, Dillon and McMurray. To use the poker analogy, they have the best hands going into Richmond.
Then again, no one expected Buescher to win the rain-shortened race at Pocono, the victory that vaulted him into the Chase conversation.
Firebrand owner/driver Tony Stewart has two of the sport's most volatile drivers on his roster, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Roger Penske, the brilliant billionaire businessman, has NASCAR's smartest driver in his stable in the form of Brad Keselowski. The quiet, but always evident genius of Rick Hendrick is reflected in Jimmie Johnson's understated brilliance behind the wheel.
What about three-time Super Bowl-winning team owner Joe Gibbs, now looking for his fourth NASCAR championship? It's more like a flashback with coach, who has John Riggins "running" for him once again in the form of the mercurial Kyle Busch, the major star amidst three other drivers who are more like linemen than a running back. Having once introduced the incomparable but difficult Stewart to stock car racing, Gibbs seems to like having a mixer in the mix.
Come to think of it, some of the other team principals see Gibbs as a bit of a mixer when it comes to using his status to influence rule-making or when it comes to JGR's "fiddling" with the rule book when building its cars. Maybe Gibbs himself is more of a mixer than he lets on.
Among team owners recognized as the best, there's now a new player who may upset the establishment by winning this year's Chase.
Barney Visser, the Furniture Row Racing team owner, is about as even-keeled as one will find in the garage and so are many of the guys who work for him. In a volatile, demanding and frustrating sport where there's one winner and 39 losers each race, Furniture Row takes events in stride, a bit unusual for a group fighting to prove it belongs among the sport's elite.
Lose the Daytona 500 by a foot? Furniture Row's Martin Truex Jr. came back to win another major in Charlotte, setting a record for most miles led in a Sprint Cup event by kicking butt for 392 of 400 laps at the Coca-Cola 600.
Get caught out in Kentucky by NASCAR's sudden decision to enforce no passing on the way to one's pit stall? No problem. Truex Jr. came back to win the crown jewel Southern 500 by beating Harvick, the man who "called in" that infraction to NASCAR officials in Kentucky.
It's not as if the Furniture Row team, where Canadian-born engineer Cole Pearn is the crew chief, lacks passion. The night he was called for the penalty in Kentucky, Truex Jr. sawed through the field in anger from last place on the lead lap and nearly got to the front before it was all over.
Unfortunately, he didn't get the break he needed with a caution and had to pit for fuel in the closing laps. In the sanctioning body's hauler afterward, Pearn launched into NASCAR officials about the absence of any written documentation in the pre-race instructions about passing on the right.
Internally, it was Visser who pointed out how much media attention from TV as well as the print media the team received as a result of Truex Jr.'s incredible drive back through the field. It's OK to be passionate and winning is better than losing, was the message, but don't forget the big picture, including the fact NASCAR makes and enforces the rules.
Truex Jr. is open to suggestion on the big picture, having recently gone through the "dark times" of his girlfriend Sherry Pollex's bout with cancer. In addition to the ignominy of the Daytona defeat and the sting of NASCAR's ruling in Kentucky, where his Toyota was clearly the fastest, Truex Jr. has suffered though errant lug nuts and even a broken shifter since Charlotte. But after his girlfriend's stirring recovery, he's all about the big picture.
"We've been one of the fastest, if not the fastest car all summer long and everywhere we've been we seemed to have rotten luck, but it was worth having all that bad luck if that's what it takes to get a Southern 500 trophy," said Truex Jr. after winning at Darlington. "This is a race I always wanted to win. Cole and the guys were awesome, including everyone at the shop in Denver for once again giving me a fast race car."
The driver, understandably, also sent a shout-out to his team owner, who is the one footing most of the bills. Visser, who describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur," started out operating pillow stores, moved on to selling water beds and eventually ended up with over 300 furniture stores. The sponsor on his car, Denver Mattress, is one of his chain of stores.
Visser is always building something. When it comes to assembling a team, he has been opportunistic in hiring to say the least. Regan Smith, who scored Furniture Row's first victory in 2011, was regarded as a journeyman until he won at Darlington. Visser hired Kurt Busch when others were reluctant to add the sometimes unpredictable driver to their teams and Busch helped make Furniture Row into a winner, making the Chase before Stewart-Haas Racing outbid Visser for his services.
When the sponsor of Truex Jr.'s car at Michael Waltrip Racing left the MWR team in the wake of the Richmond race scandal, Visser was there to offer Truex Jr. a ride. After a miserable 2014 campaign, Pearn's appointment as the crew chief turned the tide.
"You know, it's been kind of a steady progress," said Visser after the Charlotte victory. "We started pretty much with nothing, and now we're able to gradually attract drivers that could get up front and win. Kurt was big for us. He showed that our equipment was pretty good. And Martin obviously stepped in, and I think he's proven to the whole world now who he is. He's led a lot of laps this year. It's just been a steady progress for us."
On the technical side, Visser hired Mark McCardle, available after serial borrower and former team owner George Gillett's meltdown, and the engine builder turned chassis expert built up a fleet of winning cars before he was hired away for bigger bucks by team owners looking to re-build their operations, first by Richard Childress Racing and most recently by Roush Fenway Racing. Visser's latest technical leap forward has occurred by jumping to Toyota from Chevrolet and aligning with Joe Gibbs Racing, the Japanese company's primary factory team.
That relationship means Furniture Row can order chassis built by Gibbs and then shares set-up information with the team via the same computer platforms. Next year, Visser is going from strength to strength by adding a second fully sponsored Toyota for 2017 and a driver many regard as a future champion, Erik Jones, whose contract belongs to Gibbs.
As a spin-off from the racing team, Visser Precision was opened not far from the modest racing shops in Denver that are located in a warehouse and manufacturing district. In addition to making parts for the race cars, Visser Precision now manufactures parts, pieces and systems for the defense and aerospace industries.
While going to the planet of Mars is about the biggest picture one can get, the big picture for Furniture Row in NASCAR now concerns the Chase, where last year Truex Jr. put a toe in the water by qualifying with one victory and lots of laps led during the regular season. To the surprise of some, the consistency of Truex Jr. continued in the Chase and he made it all the way to the Homestead-Miami Speedway before the team wilted in the final round.
This year Furniture Row is bringing stronger credentials. Had he beaten Denny Hamlin to the line at Daytona, Truex Jr. would have joined NASCAR legends Lee Roy Yarbrough and David Pearson as the only driver to win the sport's three oldest crown jewels in one season. Visser would have joined Junior Johnson and the Wood Brothers as the only team owner to do it.
The team's car was good enough to win the Daytona 500. Truex Jr. lost it by miscalculating the side draft in his battle with Gibbs "teammate" Hamlin. Would Stewart, Keselowski, Johnson, Harvick or Kyle Busch -- the last five Sprint Cup champions -- have made the same error? Probably not. Will Truex Jr. step up in this year's Chase with a bit more fire and brilliance?
If so, Truex Jr. could become the first driver in a single-car team to win the title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. And Visser could become the first self-sponsored team owner to win since Rod Osterlund's driver Dale Earnhardt won his first championship in 1980. That's a pretty broad spectrum of history and definitely wide screen when it comes to the big picture.