The 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup moves from Texas to Arizona, with the final race in the Round of Eight coming up Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. The eight-driver field will be trimmed to four following the Can-Am 500. Chase participants have won this race in ten of the twelve years it’s been run as part of NASCAR’s “post-season” format. The only non-Chase competitors to win the fall race at P-I-R during that stretch are Kyle Busch in 2005 and Kasey Kahne in 2011.
► Seven of the eight drivers remaining in the semifinal round of the Chase have won a Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway: Kurt and Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Joey Logano’s best finish there is third on two occasions, most recently in this race last year … Dating back to November 2012, Harvick has won six of the last eight races contested at P-I-R – including this year’s first stop on March 13th … So far this fall, all eight post-season races have been won by drivers on the original Chase Grid. The best finish by a non-Chase competitor is Brian Scott’s runner-up effort at Talladega Superspeedway sixteen days ago, when he finished second to Logano.
AAA TEXAS 500: Carl Edwards applied the brakes to Joe Gibbs Racing’s post-season winless streak Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, getting a lightning-fast pit stop from his crew and a timely shower from “Mother Nature” to claim victory and secure a spot in the championship race later this month in Miami. As an organization, J-G-R’s four drivers – Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth – combined to win eleven of the twenty-six regular-season races but were oh-for-seven in this year’s Chase heading into Sunday’s race. Rain delayed the start from afternoon to evening and then stopped the race forty-one laps short of its scheduled distance. In between, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Junior combined to lead 244 laps. But Edwards’ pit crew gave him four fresh tires and fuel in under twelve seconds on their final stop of the night less than forty laps from the finish. The Number-19 Toyota was the first car off pit road and it stayed in front the rest of the way to give Edwards his twenty-eighth career victory and fourth on the Fort Worth oval. Logano grabbed second place after leading a race-high 178 laps. Truex was third with rookie Chase Elliott and Busch – the Number-1 seed in the Chase – completing the top five. Pole sitter Austin Dillon led just six laps and was sidelined by an accident late in the race, finishing thirty-seventh in the forty-car field … With the victory, Edwards joins Jimmie Johnson as the first two drivers to clinch berths in The Championship Four. The six other title contenders will be vying for two remaining spots next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
Next stop Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 as the semifinal round of the post-season Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins. The eight remaining title contenders are traveling along a path that will ultimately lead to a championship for one with 1,076 “Miles-2-Miami” left before Ford Championship Weekend in November. This will be the sixth and final short-track race of the year and the only Chase race to be run on an oval less than one mile in length. Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated the 2016 short-track schedule with wins in four of the five races run thus far. Carl Edwards has victories at Richmond International Raceway and Bristol. Denny Hamlin won last month in Richmond and Kyle Busch was victorious in this year’s first visit to Martinsville on April 3rd. All four of J-G-R’s Cup Series competitors, including Matt Kenseth, have advanced to the Chase’s Round of Eight … Busch is bidding to become the first driver to sweep both Martinsville races in a single season since Hamlin doubled up in 2010.
Fans headed to southern Virginia for this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races at Martinsville Speedway will see a post-season twin bill as the 2016 schedule enters its final month. Six title contenders remain in the inaugural Truck Series Chase heading into Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 led by top-seeded rookie William Byron. Also still on The Chase Grid are Christopher Bell, Timothy Peters, Ben Kennedy, Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton … In the Sprint Cup Series, the title field is down to eight for the final short-track race of the 2016 season, Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500. Kyle Busch, the Number-1 seed in this year’s Chase, is looking for a season sweep on the Virginia half-mile after winning the year’s first stop there in early April. Denny Hamlin’s the last driver to win both races in a single season, doing so in 2010.
Jimmie Johnson returned to familiar ground on Sunday afternoon – Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He entered the weekend as the track’s all-time leader with seven Cup Series wins. He exits with his eighth career victory on the mile-and-a-half North Carolina oval, punching his ticket into the next round of the post-season Chase. As successful as Johnson has been at C-M-S, his last win there before Sunday came more than two years ago. Johnson got the best of race leader Matt Kenseth on the day’s final restart and drove away to his third win of the season but first since March 20th at Auto Club Speedway, in the fifth race of the year! The six-time champion started eleventh and led a race-high 155 laps in notching his seventy-eighth career victory – beating runner-up Kenseth to the checkered flag by a second-and-a-half. Kasey Kahne finished third, giving Hendrick Motorsports two of the top three spots. Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson completed the top five … Kevin Harvick started from the pole but led just twelve laps before retiring with engine failure late in the first half of the race. Harvick wasn’t the only Chase driver finishing near the bottom of the running order in Charlotte. Denny Hamlin placed thirtieth, also suffering engine failure. Austin Dillon ran thirty-second, rookie Chase Elliott thirty-third and Joey Logano was thirty-sixth in the forty-car field … Kyle Busch, the Number-1 seed in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, started sixth and finished fourth on Sunday. He’s third in the post-season standings, nine points behind leader Johnson.
The 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup now moves from the Midwest to New Hampshire for Sunday’s New England 300. Chase drivers have won this race all twelve years the current post-season structure has been in place. Matt Kenseth, the Number-7 seed in this year’s Challenger Round, is the defending winner and also won this season’s first stop at “The Magic Mile” on July 17th. No Cup Series driver has won three in a row at New Hampshire Motor Speedway since the track began hosting the series in 1993 … Just twice in the Chase era (2004 to the present) has the winner of the fall race in New Hampshire gone on to win the title that same year: Kurt Busch in 2004 and Tony Stewart in 2011 … Nine of the sixteen drivers in the Challenger Round are past winners on the one-mile Loudon oval: Kenseth, Stewart, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski … There are forty drivers on the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s New England 300, the fourth of six races to be contested on one-mile ovals this year. Harvick won at Phoenix International Raceway back in mid-March, with Kenseth winning at Dover and New Hampshire.
Denny Hamlin took his final lead of the night with seventy-nine laps remaining Saturday at Richmond International Raceway and kept the Number-11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in front through six subsequent restarts, closing the regular season with his third victory of the year and securing the Number-3 seed in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup that opens next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Hamlin’s margin of victory over runner-up Kyle Larson was six-tenths of a second. Martin Truex Junior led a race-high 193 laps and nabbed third place with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick completing the top five. Hamlin started from the pole and led 189 laps to give J-G-R a season sweep on the three-quarter-mile Fairgrounds oval. Carl Edwards was victorious in April but finished thirty-second in his bid for back-to-back wins there … With The Chase Grid now filled, championship points have been reset. Keselowski and Kyle Busch are tied at the top by virtue of their four victories during the regular season. Busch gets the Number-1 seed by winning the tiebreaker, which is based on second-place finishes. He has three, Keselowski one. With two wins this year, Harvick – the regular-season points leader – holds the Number-4 seed … The four drivers who went into the weekend holding the final four provisional spots in the Chase – Chris Buescher, rookie Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray – came out of the weekend with their post-season tickets punched after finishing among the top twenty-five in the forty-car field.
With the final weekend of the regular season now looming at Richmond International Raceway, there are three spots still open on The Chase Grid for non-race winners to fill heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Sprint Cup Series race. Thirteen drivers have been victorious in 2016: Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. All are within the requisite top thirty of the standings, which currently leaves a maximum of three post-season spots available based on the point standings. Four drivers are in the mix for those final three spots: rookie Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman – who trails McMurray by seven points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot … Any driver who hasn’t yet won but reaches Victory Lane at Richmond would qualify for the post-season, provided that driver is among the top thirty in points, and would reduce the number of spots available based on the regular-season standings … With the post-season now right around the corner, the race for the Number-1 seed on The Chase Grid is coming down to a two-man battle between Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Brad Keselowski (Team Penske). Each has four victories in 2016. Busch is a four-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series at R-I-R while Keselowski has one victory there. They finished second and eleventh, respectively, in this year’s first race at Richmond on April 24th.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, there are three spots still open on The Chase Grid for non-race winners to fill heading into Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. With Kyle Larson’s win two days ago at Michigan International Speedway, thirteen drivers have been victorious thus far in 2016 including Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. All are within the requisite top thirty of the standings, which currently leaves a maximum of three post-season spots available based on the point standings. Jamie McMurray, Larson’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, holds a fifteen-point lead over Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot … If the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began today, Austin Dillon and rookie Chase Elliott would hold the two other berths. Any driver who hasn’t yet won but reaches Victory Lane in either of the next two races would qualify for the post-season, provided that driver was among the top thirty in points, and would reduce the number of spots available based on the regular-season standings … With the post-season now right around the corner, the race for the Number-1 seed on The Chase Grid seems to be coming down to a two-man battle between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. Each has four wins. Busch has one Cup Series victory at Darlington, in 2008. Keselowski is winless at the track “Too Tough to Tame.” He finished second to Carl Edwards there last summer.
Next stop Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Twelve drivers have been victorious thus far in 2016: Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. All are within the requisite top thirty of the standings and if they remain there over the final three weeks of the regular season, they’ll have a spot on The Chase Grid. That leaves a maximum of four post-season berths available based on the point standings. Ryan Newman holds a thirty-five-point lead over Trevor Bayne in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot. In this year’s first race at Michigan on June 12th, Newman finished eleventh and Bayne placed fifteenth … If the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began today, Austin Dillon, rookie Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray would hold the three other spots.