Doctors have not cleared Dale Earnhardt Junior to return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as he continues to recover from a concussion. As a result, he’ll miss at least two more races – Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway and the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 4th. Alex Bowman, who drove the Number-88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to a twenty-sixth-place finish last month in New Hampshire, will make his second start as Earnhardt’s sub in Sunday’s race at Michigan. Jeff Gordon, who has run the last four races in Earnhardt’s absence, will be back behind the wheel for the Darlington round on Labor Day weekend.
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Next Stop Is Watkins Glen International for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. With just five races remaining in the regular season, it appears that twelve of the sixteen spots on The Chase Grid will be filled by race-winning drivers: 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. That would leave four post-season spots available based on the point standings. Jamie McMurray currently holds a nine-point lead over Kyle Larson, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot … Six drivers are presently in the mix for those final four spots: Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, rookie Chase Elliott, McMurray, Larson and Kasey Kahne … Jeff Gordon will make the eight hundredth start of his career at the Glen and his third in the Number-88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, still subbing for Dale Earnhardt Junior who remains sidelined while recovering from a concussion.
Dale Earnhardt Junior was held out of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday and it was already announced that Jeff Gordon will once again drive the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS at Pocono Raceway this coming weekend. Although there is no official timetable for his return to the track, Earnhardt Jr. posted to Twitter over the weekend that he sees ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and that gains were seen during physical therapy. Once Earnhardt Jr. returns to racing, he will have an uphill battle to make The Chase for the Sprint Cup on points alone. Following Indianapolis Earnhardt Jr. has fallen outside the cutoff to seventeenth in points and will likely fall further after not competing in Pocono.
Kyle Busch made NASCAR history with his dominating performance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway winning the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard Sunday afternoon. Busch’s bid for history started Saturday when he won the NASCAR Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 from the pole leading all but one lap in the sixty-lap main event. Taking the green flag on the pole Sunday afternoon was the next step. History would be made three hours later when Kyle Busch took the checkered flag and became the first driver in NASCAR history to sweep a weekend’s races from the pole position. However, the win was not without a little late race drama as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to survive several late race restarts including the first double overtime since NASCAR’s new rules went into effect this year. Matt Kenseth restarted on the outside of Busch on the final restart but quickly settled into the runner-up position to give JGR a one-two finish. Jimmie Johnson battled back from an early speeding penalty to finish third. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-5. In his final race at the speedway, Tony Stewart raced up front in the early portion of the race. A pit road speeding penalty that put him a lap down looked to spoil the Columbus, Indiana native’s last race at his “home track.” Stewart battled back to finish eleventh and took a special lap around the track with Jeff Gordon, who finished thirteenth filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., saluting the fans on their final race at the famed speedway together. The race featured four lead changes among three drivers and eight cautions for thirty-four laps.
Next Stop Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 at The Brickyard, the twentieth round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season. All eyes will be on the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 which will be driven by Jeff Gordon, who comes out of retirement to fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. who is still dealing with concussion symptoms that forced him to sit out last week at New Hampshire. Sunday will also mark the last start at the Indiana track for Columbus, Indiana native Tony Stewart, who will retire at the end of the season. Stewart is a two-time winner at the speedway and is coming off back to back top-five finishes the last two weeks. The new driver of the No. 24 car, rookie Chase Elliott will look to rebound after three finishes outside the top thirty at a track that saw the No. 24 go to victory lane five times.
Kurt Busch kept one eye on his fuel gauge and the other on a fast-closing Dale Earnhardt Junior down the stretch Monday afternoon, winning the rain-delayed event at Pocono Raceway. Busch got the jump on "Junior" on the day’s final restart and kept the Number-41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in front the rest of the way, stretching his fuel mileage through the final thirty-two laps to notch his first win of 2016. Busch’s margin of victory was one second over Earnhardt with pole sitter Brad Keselowski, rookie Chase Elliott and Joey Logano completing the top five. It’s Busch’s twenty-eighth career victory and third at The Tricky Triangle. The race was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon but persistent rain moved it to Monday.
Logano and Matt Kenseth showed power during the first third of the race, combining to lead forty-eight of the first sixty-five laps. Elliott took over from there and went on to lead fifty-one laps through the middle portion of the race before yielding to Earnhardt – who then fell victim to Busch on the final, pivotal restart … The race pace was slowed by ten cautions, just three shy of the track record. Busch won with an average speed of 125.490 miles per hour, some twenty miles per hour slower than Jeff Gordon’s track record set in 2011 … Speaking of Gordon, he’s the last driver to win back-to- back June races at Pocono – in 1996 and 1997. Martin Truex Junior had his sights set on matching that achievement but was involved in pit-road contact with Matt DiBenedetto early in Monday’s race and never fully recovered, finishing nineteenth … Kevin Harvick’s ninth-place finish was enough to keep him atop the regular-season point standings.
With his victory in Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race, Team Penske’s Joey Logano will now look to join a fairly exclusive group of NASCAR drivers with another victory this coming weekend in the Coca-Cola 600.
Since 1985, the first year of the All-Star Race, just seven drivers have won both events in the same season: Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Darrell Waltrip and Kurt Busch – the last driver to do it, in 2010. Logano tops the preliminary entry list for NASCAR’s longest race that also includes defending winner Carl Edwards and regular-season points leader Kevin Harvick.
Last year, Denny Hamlin finished eighth in his bid to sweep the two May races at C-M- S.
With his victory in the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and his first Sprint Cup Series championship, Kyle Busch closes the year atop the final Motor Racing Network Power Rankings. He went into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the Number-2 seed (behind Jimmie Johnson) and comes out as the thirty-first driver to win a championship in the sport’s sixty-seven-year history.
Kevin Harvick is second in the Rankings with Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Junior making up the rest of the top five. (For a complete list, visit http://bit.ly/1lIwb6d at MRN.com.)
In addition to his five race wins this season, Busch had one pole (for the August race at Pocono). He did all this in a twenty-five-race stretch after missing the first eleven races of the season while recovering from injuries suffered in February during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.
And speaking of Speedweeks, while we are only three days removed from the conclusion of the 2015 season, the 2016 season-opening Daytona 500 is just eighty-eight days away!
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Top 10 Finishers in the Quicken Loans 500
DRIVER STARTING POSITION LAPS LED
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Kevin Harvick
- Joey Logano
- Kyle Busch
- Jimmie Johnson
- Jeff Gordon
- Kurt Busch
- Denny Hamlin
- Brad Keselowski
- Aric Almirola
Sunday’s victory for Dale Earnhardt Junior is his third of the season and the twenty-sixth of his career – three of which have come at Phoenix International Raceway. The first two were back-to-back in 2003 and 2004 … Among active drivers, “Junior” is now third on the track’s win list behind Kevin Harvick (seven) and Jimmie Johnson (four).
Chevrolet has won five straight Sprint Cup Series races at P-I-R and six of the last seven … Johnson started from the pole, led the first forty-four laps and finished fifth in Sunday’s race.
Thus far, all nine post-season races this year have been won by drivers who were on the original sixteen-man Chase Grid.
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