There are more than one hundred drivers entered across NASCAR’s three national series for this coming weekend’s tripleheader at Phoenix International Raceway. At this point of the post-season, just three are certain they’ll be racing for a championship the following weekend in Miami. In the Sprint Cup Series, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson have advanced by virtue of victories in the semifinal round of the Chase. Six drivers remain in contention for the final two spots, with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch – both former champions – likely facing a must-win situation to move on. In the inaugural Truck Series Chase, Johnny Sauter has swept the first two races in the Round of Six and will seek his first championship next week in Miami. Five drivers are left to battle for the three other spots. And in the X-FINITY Series, six drivers are currently in the mix for a berth in The Championship Four that will head to South Florida for the November 19th season finale.
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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.
The X-FINITY Series heads off to Kentucky Speedway, where twelve title hopefuls begin their post-season journey in Saturday night’s Visit Myrtle Beach-dot com 300. There’s also a rookie holding the top seed in the X-FINITY Series Chase … Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones, who paced the regular season with four wins. He’s joined in the “playoffs” by Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Junior, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Sieg (Seeg), Ryan Reed, Blake Koch, and rookies Brennan Poole and Brandon Jones. The twelve-man title field will be trimmed to eight following the October 7th race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR X-FINITY Series also runs on the three-quarter-mile Fairgrounds oval with tonight’s Virginia529 College Savings 250. Junior Motorsports has won the last two races contested there, with Chase Elliott last fall and Dale Earnhardt Junior earlier this season. Neither driver is entered this weekend, with Elliott concentrating on his Sprint Cup duties and Earnhardt still recovering from a concussion. Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman and regular-season points leader Elliott Sadler make up the Junior Motorsports lineup for this weekend. With just two races remaining in the regular season, Sadler is battling rookie Erik Jones for the top seed in the inaugural X-FINITY Series Chase. He has two victories thus far, one less than Jones … Earlier this season, Sadler finished third at Richmond while Jones was sidelined by an accident and settled for thirty-fourth place in the forty-car field.
Kyle Larson got the best of rookie Chase Elliott on the day’s final restart Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, leading the last ten laps to record his first career Sprint Cup victory. Larson was ready to pounce when the green flag flew for the final time while Elliott briefly spun his tires, opening the door for Larson to drive his Number-42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet straight into Gatorade Victory Lane. The winning margin over Elliott was one-point-four seconds. Brad Keselowski, the only Michigan driver in the forty-car field, finished third. But his Number-2 Team Penske Ford failed post-race inspection, with any penalties likely to be announced at mid-week. Rookie Ryan Blaney grabbed fourth place with Kevin Harvick completing the top five. Pole sitter Joey Logano led twenty-four laps and finished tenth in his bid for a season sweep on the two-mile Irish Hills oval after winning in June … Larson led a race-high forty-one laps in helping to give Chevrolet a one-two sweep. Elliott drove his Number-88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to second-place finishes in both Sprint Cup Series events at M-I-S in 2016. Larson’s first Cup Series win comes in his ninety-ninth start and gives team owner Chip Ganassi just his second Michigan victory. The first one came fifteen years ago with Sterling Marlin behind the wheel … Larson’s victory capped an historic weekend for NASCAR during which first-time winners celebrated in each of the sanctioning body’s three national series: Brett Moffitt in the Camping World Truck Series, Michael McDowell (X-FINITY) and then Larson on Sunday in Michigan.
The X-Finity Series will run the last of three road-course races this season, Saturday’s Road America 180 Fired Up By Johnsonville in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Joey Logano and Justin Marks have won the first two at Watkins Glen International and Mid-Ohio, respectively. Marks is entered at Road America, Logano is not – with Alex Tagliani scheduled to drive the Number-22 Team Penske Ford
THE NASCAR X-FINITY SERIES … also competes in “Thunder Valley” with tonight’s Food City 300. Daniel Suarez set the pace in Thursday’s opening practice and the second session was rained out … There was news off the track as Hendrick Motorsports announced that it has signed Camping World Truck Series points leader William Byron to a multi-year agreement. He’ll race full-time in the 2017 X-FINITY Series for Hendrick affiliate Junior Motorsports. Byron is now competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports and leads the Truck Series with five wins heading into the final ten races of the season.
Justin Marks got the best of his thirty-nine X-FINITY Series rivals on Saturday by mastering a soggy circuit and driving to victory at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Marks, widely known as a road racing specialist but making just his twenty-fifth career series start, led a race-high forty-three laps in his Number-42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – including the final ten, beating pole sitter Sam Hornish Junior to the checkered flag by more than three-and-a-half seconds. Ryan Blaney took third place with Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier completing the top five. It was a banner day for Chevrolet as the manufacturer grabbed four of the five top finishing positions. Marks started sixteenth in the forty-car field but charged forward at the drop of the green flag. He took his first lead just eleven laps into the race as rain soaked the two-point-two-mile natural road course. It did subside and the track began to dry at the mid-point of the race. But the skies opened up again in the second half, which opened the door for Marks to claim his first career win. Darrell Wallace Junior had the lead on the day’s final restart fourteen laps from the finish but went off the course in the wet conditions, surrendering the top spot to Dillon with Marks in hot pursuit. Dillon slid off the track himself a short time later, giving Marks the opening he needed to reclaim the lead and drive on to victory … Series leader Elliott Sadler started fourth and finished ninth, which was enough for him to stretch his advantage to twenty-five points over second-place Daniel Suarez, who labored to a twenty-third-place finish … Erik Jones was the highest-finishing rookie, coming home in sixth place.
Next stop Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where the NASCAR XFINITY Series takes the spotlight with both the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series idle this weekend. Saturday’s 4th running of the Mid-Ohio Challenge will be contested on a two-point-two-mile natural road course – located in Lexington, Ohio, which features thirteen turns and debuted on the X-FINITY Series schedule in 2013. Grandstand seating capacity is four thousand with unlimited hillside seating.
Last Year’s Race: Regan Smith pushed race leader Alex Tagliani out of the way in the next-to-last corner of the final lap, ending a fifty-two-race winless streak. Tagliani started from the pole and led a race-high thirty-eight laps, including a stretch of fourteen straight that carried him to the final lap of the race. Smith closed on Tagliani on the last trip around the two-point-two-mile road course, and executed the bump-and-run with the checkered flag in sight to claim his fifth career victory and first since February 2014. Tagliani gathered himself and held on for second place, three-quarters of a second behind at the finish. Ty Dillon, points leader Chris Buescher and Chase Elliott completed the top five … Buescher’s championship lead remained at twenty-four points over second-place Dillon with Elliott third, twenty-five off the pace … The race included eight cautions for twenty-five laps, one-third of the race distance … Track Position at Mid-Ohio: Winners of the first three races run at Mid-Ohio – Smith, Buescher and A-J Allmendinger – all qualified seventh or better, though none started from the pole
THE NASCAR X-FINITY SERIES … also competes at Watkins Glen with Saturday’s Zippo 200. Teams got two practice sessions on the newly paved road course on Thursday with Kyle Busch posting the fastest overall speed, 123.006 miles per hour. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and defending race winner Joey Logano followed on the speed chart as Sprint Cup drivers took the top four spots. Justin Allgaier completed the top five … Larson had the fastest average speed over ten consecutive laps, 122.552 miles per hour. Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, rookie Erik Jones and Darrell Wallace Junior took positions two through five.
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