There’ll be high drama in this weekend’s Sprint Cup/X-FINITY Series doubleheader at Dover International Speedway with four Cup Series drivers facing elimination in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With wins at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire, respectively, Martin Truex Junior and Kevin Harvick are moving on. But at the bottom of the post-season standings, four drivers are looking to get their title hopes back on track in Delaware’s capital city: Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. None of those four have cracked the top ten in either of the first two post-season races … In the X-FINITY Series, Elliott Sadler’s victory at Kentucky Speedway moved him into the next round. But after finishing only twenty-eighth in the opening race of the inaugural Chase, top-seeded Erik Jones finds himself ninth in the twelve-man title field with just two weeks left before four drivers are eliminated from championship contention.
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The 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup rolls on from New England to the Mid-Atlantic region for Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway. It’s the final race in the opening round. Four of the sixteen competitors on The Chase Grid will be dropped from title contention before the series heads to Charlotte for the October 8th Bank of America 500. Drivers currently occupying positions thirteen through sixteen are Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, three-time champion Tony Stewart and rookie Chris Buescher. Kyle Larson holds the final provisional spot to transfer into the Round of Twelve, five points clear of the cutoff … Stewart is the only one of those five drivers with a win on “The Monster Mile.” In fact, he has three victories there, winning in 2013 and sweeping both races in 2000. Larson finished second (to Matt Kenseth) in this year’s first stop at Dover back on May 15th. Buescher was eighteenth, McMurray twenty-first and Dillon placed thirty-third … Martin Truex Junior of Furniture Row Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick have locked themselves into the twelve-man field for the next round with victories in the two opening races of this year’s post-season Chase.
Kevin Harvick was masterful on the day’s final restart Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, roaring past race leader Matt Kenseth to claim victory and advance to the next round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Harvick started nineteenth and led just eight laps all afternoon. But after dispatching Kenseth on the decisive restart, he kept his Number-4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in front over the final six circuits to notch his third victory of the season and at the same time, deny Kenseth his third straight win on “The Magic Mile.” Harvick, the Number-4 seed, now joins Martin Truex Junior in the Round of Twelve that opens October 8th in Concord, North Carolina. Kenseth took second place on Sunday, a half-second behind Harvick. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch completed the top five. Chase drivers filled the top eight spots in the final running order with Kasey Kahne the highest-finishing non-title contender, in ninth place … Carl Edwards started from the pole, led the first thirty laps and finished sixth. Truex dominated the first half of the race, leading 141 of the first 178 laps en route to a seventh-place finish … Keselowski’s fourth-place finish was enough to lift him into the post-season points lead, by one over Truex and two over Kyle Busch … Toyota drivers dominated the day by leading all but twenty of the laps run on the one-mile oval … Sunday’s race included fourteen lead changes among eight drivers.
Next Stop New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second round of the post-season Chase, Sunday’s Bad Boy Off Road 300. The Sixteen Challengers are traveling along a path that will ultimately lead to a championship for one with 3,194.98 “Miles-2-Miami” left before Ford Championship Weekend. A couple high-octane names are running on fumes near the bottom of the Chase standings with just two weeks left before the first four drivers are eliminated. Three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is twelfth and 2014 champ Kevin Harvick is tied for thirteenth with Kyle Larson after sub-par showings in the post-season opener last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. The good news? Both Stewart and Harvick are former winners on the one-mile Loudon oval.
One week after announcing a new policy of levying potentially stiffer penalties for substantial violations of technical regulations found in post-race inspection, NASCAR officials said Wednesday that the sanctioning body will not penalize Sprint Cup teams for minor infractions discovered during routine post-race laser inspection. Last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, the cars of race winner Martin Truex Junior and twelfth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson failed post-race inspection by small measurements that were slightly outside approved tolerances. NASCAR said yesterday that it will not penalize those teams, which were among the nine subjected to post-race laser inspection following the opening round of the 2016 Chase … Truex was not the only winning driver whose vehicle failed post-race inspection at Chicagoland. Kyle Busch won the Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 225, but his Toyota lost in the inspection line afterwards. Laser inspection is not used in the Truck Series, where Busch’s Tundra was found to be too low. Minor penalties were handed down Wednesday, with crew chief Wes Ward fined six thousand dollars and the team docked ten championship points – dropping it from a tie for thirtieth into a tie for thirty-first in the owner standings.
Fans headed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Sprint Cup-Camping World Truck Series twin bill will be treated to a pair of post-season races as the title “Chase” picks up steam for twenty-four drivers. Martin Truex Junior won the opening race of the Sprint Cup Chase last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway while some familiar faces are at the bottom of the sixteen-driver field with just two weeks left to stave off elimination. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and rookie Chris Buescher – all race winners during the regular season – hold the last three spots on The Chase Grid … In the Truck Series, eight drivers are poised to embark on the inaugural post-season Chase – with Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie William Byron the top seed. The title field will be trimmed to six following the third race of the opening round on October 22nd at Talladega Superspeedway.
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.
NASCAR’s post-season is set to begin with a new set of rules that gives the sanctioning body power to issue stiffer penalties so stringent that a driver could lose a championship if his team fails inspection. The bolstered sanctions announced Wednesday give NASCAR the authority to levy a harsh penalty should a car fail post-race laser inspection. A winning team would not be able to use the victory to automatically advance to the next round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The same penalty could apply to a team that does not have enough secure lug nuts on its vehicle’s wheels at the end of a race. The new penalties will go into effect if a team fails post-race inspection by a significant amount, or if three or more of the twenty lug nuts aren’t secure. A winning team will not be stripped of victory, but the benefits that come with it would be withdrawn. For the three season-ending races at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, the finishing position of a driver with post-race inspection issues would not count when determining the champion and placement of other Chase finalists. The new rules will generally apply to all three of NASCAR’s national series: Sprint Cup,
X-FINITY and Camping World Trucks.
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.
Next Stop… Richmond International Raceway for the Sprint Cup Series’ final race of the regular season, Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400. Thirteen drivers have won races this season, led by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski – who have four victories apiece. Rookie Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon currently hold provisional Chase berths based on the regular-season standings with Jamie McMurray leading Ryan Newman by twenty-two points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot. The Chase opens September 18th at Chicagoland Speedway … Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle will be making his five hundredth career start in Saturday’s race. He’s winless in 2016 and needs a victory at Richmond to qualify for the post-season Chase … And Furniture Row Racing, expanding to two Sprint Cup teams in 2017, has named Chris Gayle crew chief for Erik Jones’ Number-77 Toyota. Gayle joins F-R-R after spending fourteen years as an engineer and crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones will join Martin Truex Junior in the organization’s Sprint Cup lineup for next season.
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