RELATED: Updated Chase Grid Ain't no party like a NASCAR party! As the regular season nears its end and The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup rapidly approaches, so too does the annual fan celebration to mark its beginning -- NASCAR Chase Fest. Taking place, once again, in Chicago on Sept. 17 ahead of the first Challenger Round race at Chicagoland Speedway , Chase Fest sponsored by Toyota and Sprint provides a free outdoor fan fest featuring appearances and autograph sessions with all 16 Chase drivers and other NASCAR personalities. Grammy-nominated 3 Doors Down will help keep the party flowing with a concert, as well as a performance by Chicago's popular country cover band, the Suburban Cowboys. Fans in attendance also will have a plethora of meal and drink options, with food being provided by Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and beverages by Coors Light. Additional entertainment will include the Toyota Ferris Wheel and the NASCAR on NBC Sports Bumper Cars. The events of the day will be covered by NBCSN, including Krista Voda, Kyle Petty, Marty Snider and Rutledge Wood, for the network's live broadcast of " NASCAR America." Chase Fest will take place on Weed Street between Fremont and Kingsbury streets from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time. For full details on this year's Chase Fest, click here .
RELATED: Chase Grid " Chase bubble watch " Chase Fest details A year ago, it was Kasey Kahne . Only two races remained before the start of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , and the Hendrick Motorsports driver was 13th in points. Unfortunately, he was outside the top 16 in the Chase standings. Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin , AJ Allmendinger , Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola trailed Kahne in points. But they were among those that had wins. They had invitations to the dance. At the time, Kahne had managed only two top-five finishes. His average finishing position was 16.8. He hadn't been to the victory lane since midway through the previous season. So he and his team went out and won at Atlanta Motor Speedway . It earned Kahne one of the final Chase spots and the No. 5 team a second chance. It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds. Kevin Harvick , as was often the case, was dominant at AMS. Kahne fell a lap down early. The team battled back. He didn't take the lead for the first time until Lap 303 of the scheduled 325-lap race. Suddenly, he seemed to be on his way to the win. Then cautions appeared, forcing two late restarts. Green, white, checkered late. Kahne's lead was lost on pit road. Yet somehow he muscled his way past Matt Kenseth coming to the white flag, holding on for the win and a spot in the Chase . It's a similar position for the 35-year-old this year. Two races remain -- stops at Darlington Raceway and Richmond International Raceway -- before the field is finalized for this year's 10-race run to determine the Sprint Cup champion. Kahne is once again winless. He is not alone. Teammate Jeff Gordon has finished inside the top five only three times this year. The four-time champion is ahead of Clint Bowyer in the playoff picture, with a wider margin back to folks such as Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle . A year ago Gordon had three wins and a vise-like grip on first place in the points. Bowyer's got a pair of top-fives, but much of the attention around the No. 15 team of Michael Waltrip Racing centers on where Bowyer will call home next season. Paul Menard has a razor-thin lead on Gordon in points, but taking nothing for granted. Can anyone? Matt Kenseth 's blown engine at Bristol last week, leaving the Joe Gibbs driver 42nd in the final rundown, didn't go unnoticed. Things not only can happen, they often do. With 10 drivers already secure -- 11 if you go ahead and give Kyle Busch one of the spots although he's close enough to the fault line that a misstep could make things interesting -- and two races remaining, at least three of this year's Chase spots will be filled based on the points standings after Richmond. It could be five, if no new winner emerges in the next two weeks. Few on the fringes, though, have shown signs of contending for wins. Almirola? One top five and only three laps led this season. Biffle? It's shaping up to be the wrong type of career year for the Roush Fenway Racing driver, with just two top-fives and an average finish of 20th. Austin Dillon ? Kyle Larson ? Both have shown potential. Both are winless. Kahne? Well, who knows? The question isn't can it be done. Kahne's already proven that it's possible. The question is who among those can pull it off?
RELATED: Homestead-Miami hosting Goodyear tire test HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Waiting out a morning shower in the Homestead-Miami Speedway garage on Wednesday, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was dressed casually but clearly at work, talking with his Stewart-Haas Racing crew as they hovered over laptop computers and gestured toward his plain gray No. 4 Chevrolet SS. The last time this group was at this track, they were getting showered in champagne, not rain, celebrating Harvick's 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship title, thanks to a victory in the season finale here. But it was all business for Harvick Wednesday as he and nine other drivers came to the 1.5-mile track for a one-day open test for Sprint Cup teams, attended by three of last year's four championship contenders, also including last week's winner Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) and Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ). RELATED: Anheuser-Busch to change look of SHR's No. 4 car in 2016 "You know, I actually hadn't even thought about it to tell you the truth," a smiling Harvick said of his first time back at Homestead since his title-winning performance last November. "I know that doesn't make for a great story, but no one [on the team] has even mentioned it. Everything happens so fast in this sport from a week-to-week basis and you get so caught up in what you need to do the next week. "We're always trying to look forward so I really hadn't thought about everything that happened last year. We're so focused on being in position, to hopefully have a chance to do that again and get back here." Harvick's primary championship challengers were of similar mindset. And like all of the 10 drivers here -- also including Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kyle Larson , Martin Truex Jr ., Ty Dillon , Ryan Blaney , Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne -- the lone opportunity to turn some extra test laps at Homestead is something not to be missed, even if track time boiled down to a couple late morning hours before heavier rains interrupted the schedule. With the elimination-style format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs heading into its second year, the importance of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway has increased exponentially. When the Sprint Cup Series arrives in South Florida in three months, four drivers will be eligible for the title – the highest finisher in this race will be crowned champion. Last year, Harvick won the race and therefore, the season trophy. Logano, who collected his third win in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford last weekend at Bristol, also spoke about the emphasis teams now place specifically on being prepared for Homestead. MORE: Logano victorious in Bristol night race "Hopefully this test is very important for us," Logano said with a slight laugh. "You hope it is [because that means you're in the championship hunt.] Just getting to here (season finale) is a challenge. "If we do, then this test today will be the most important test of the year. So we definitely want to put a lot into it and make sure we get a lot out of it and really understand what we learned out of it." Logano's three wins would rank him right behind the season's four-time winners Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch for the start of the Chase on Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway and like Harvick, Logano believes his team is right where it needs to be at this point in the season. "Right now, we're peaking at the right spot, and getting a couple wins in the last three weeks is what we need to do heading into the Chase ," said Logano, who finished 16th in the 2014 Homestead race. "Winning the Bristol night race last year kind of propelled us into the Chase , I thought, and gave us good momentum into the Chase . Getting all the way to here [Homestead] was a heck of an accomplishment. And we just need to focus on what we need to do. I feel like as a team we learned a lot in terms of how to execute a championship weekend." RELATED: Harvick scores another runner-up finish It looks like everyone will have to raise their game to dethrone Harvick, however, who has a pair of wins and a series-best 17 top-five finishes highlighted by 10 runner-up showings already this season. "We've struck a pretty good course in terms of being able to have a plan in place for the Chase , and everyone has done a good job in terms of being prepared when it comes time for Chicago," Harvick said. "We've been ready every week. We've just got to keep doing those things. ... No different than last year when we made it happen when it counted." WATCH: Harvick chases Logano in the closing laps at Bristol
RELATED: Full series standings " Chase Grid BRISTOL, Tenn. -- In postseason terms, Aric Almirola is still an outsider, but not by much -- just 23 points behind Clint Bowyer , the final driver on the provisional Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff grid. It would be easy, if not exactly sporting, for Almirola to rejoice about Bowyer's short-term woes -- a 41st-place finish last week at Michigan -- and wider-scope issues -- the impending breakup of Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team at season's end. While opportunities exist for Almirola to capitalize, he's not expecting his would-be Chase rivals to merely play out the string. "There are two ways to look at it," Almirola said after Friday's final Sprint Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. "One is, yeah, they may be vulnerable and guys are kind of distracted and they're scrambling looking for jobs, but the other way to look at that is they don't have anything to lose, so they can push all the gray areas as hard as they can and be really aggressive and what's the worst that's going to happen? They're not going to lose their jobs because they're already looking for work. "There are a couple different ways to look at that and I think as hardcore racers as all those guys that he has on his team are, they're not gonna lay down; they're not gonna give up; they're gonna fight hard; they're gonna try and make the Chase . It's about pride. Everybody in this garage area has egos and we all want to beat our competitors and I doubt any of those guys, Clint included, are going to lay down." Almirola aims to gain more Chase ground, starting with Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM), the third-to-last race of the Sprint Cup regular season. Besides Bowyer in front of him, he also has Kasey Kahne just three points off his heels with three unpredictable races -- Bristol, Darlington, Richmond -- looming on the schedule. The fickle nature of all three tracks presents the opportunity for wild points swings, but Almirola would prefer to get to the Chase on the merits of performance. Richard Petty Motorsports ' season-long search for speed in Almirola's No. 43 and teammate Sam Hornish Jr .'s No. 9 has made that a more difficult prospect. "We've had a few setbacks that were costly to us, but all in all we've had 15th-place cars and we've been running top-15 with them," Almirola said. "That's really all we can do. The guys back at the shop are working extremely hard and so is everybody else in the garage area to bring better cars to the race track every weekend. We've just been playing catch-up all year long. I'm really proud of everybody at RPM, but the moral of the story is we just need more speed in our cars and as we work harder and harder and continue to get more speed in our cars, our results will reflect that." One factor that has made matters trickier -- opening-day pitfalls in back-to-back race weekends. This Friday, Almirola made contact with the outside retaining wall in opening practice, forcing his RPM crew into repair mode to keep his primary car intact. But it hardly compares with last weekend's adversity, which left him ailing and infirm in Michigan's infield care center. After missing portions of practice last weekend, Almirola rallied for a 14th-place finish in the Pure Michigan 400 . This weekend, he's happy to leave his ailment several states away. "I'm back to 100 percent but my goodness was that rough," Almirola said. "I never felt so bad in a long time. I had some sort of 24-hour stomach virus and it was maybe a little longer than 24 hours, maybe 36 hours, and I was down for the count. I was laying in the infield care center on Thursday night from 11 to maybe 2:30 in the morning getting IVs and went back to the bus and got a little bit of sleep, but woke up every half-hour with throwing up or whatever and you know what the other is, so it was a long night. "I got back up the next morning and went back to get some more IVs and I watched the first hour of practice laying on my couch in my motorhome and it was all I could do to gather myself up and get over to the garage and make a couple laps at practice."
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell announced Friday at Michigan International Speedway that the rules package for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will not include either the low-downforce package or the high-drag package. The low-downforce package was used in June at Kentucky Speedway, and will be in use next month at Darlington Raceway. The high-drag package is being used this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, and O'Donnell spent time with drivers, teams and manufacturers following Friday's qualifying to gather feedback. " The specific topic we wanted to cover with the industry was regarding the Chase , and our decision to keep the 2015 rules package as it is for the Chase and a lot of discussions we had with the industry, that includes a number of folks: The tracks, the drivers, the race teams, the OEMs, all believe that that was in the best interest of the sport," O'Donnell said. "Excited about the Chase , excited about the package and what's to come in the Chase , especially when you look back to last year. So that was really the main point we wanted to talk about." RELATED: See the Chase Grid as it stands O'Donnell said the intention all along was to keep the Chase where it was with the 2015 rules package, but some teams wanted to push forward after getting a look at the packages used at Kentucky and Indianapolis. But instead the sanctioning body will gather information from Sunday's race at Michigan and the Labor Day weekend race at Darlington and use that when formulating the 2016 rules package. The Kentucky race in particular garnered positive feedback, with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards saying at the time that he was sold on it even after just one look in the Quaker State 400. That wasn't lost on NASCAR . "So absolutely a lot of great things happened during that race, but that was one race and one that we want to learn from and take forward and apply what we can to Darlington and do the same thing," O'Donnell said. "So I would say a ton of positives we saw from Kentucky, but we've got to take the time to dial those things in and make sure that everybody is on the same page. We've got the best package to put forth, especially as we look to '16, so that does have a lot of momentum and lot of positives that we can apply to Darlington and then make some calls post Darlington as well." RELATED: Drivers praise Kentucky package As far as using more races or tests in the future to try out new rules packages, O'Donnell said he didn't anticipate that would be necessary, that after Michigan and Darlington and more simulation tests and discussions with the major players that the sanctioning body would be in position to make a decision fairly quickly during the offseason. That in turn would give teams the needed time to make adjustments for 2016. "I think the intent would be that we see what happens during the race here Sunday, talk to all of our partners, do the same in Darlington, and then take that information, have a direction, which we feel pretty good about where we may head based on what we'll see on the racetrack, and then go in and do some sim work with all of our partners directionally on those packages to see if we can fine-tune that," O'Donnell said. Earlier this week, O'Donnell issued a pair of timelines for a pair of important decisions. One was the Chase rules package; the second was the 2016 schedule, which he said should be announced in three to four weeks. O'Donnell said he did not anticipate major changes with the schedule. He cited the West Coast swing as a positive development in the 2015 schedule, along with attendance at Watkins Glen and Michigan. He said NASCAR would work on striving for consistency going forward. O'Donnell also was asked whether there'd be changes for the October race at Talladega based on the wreck involving Austin Dillon at the July race at Daytona. "We're still having some discussion with the industry heading into Talladega," O'Donnell said. "Have not settled on anything yet, but I think you can anticipate something."
RELATED: Official NASCAR release Good news race fans -- NASCAR After The Lap, presented by Ford and Sprint , is headed back to Las Vegas for its seventh straight year. The event, which features all 16 drivers competing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , has become one of the major highlights of Champions Week, as well as an opportunity for fans to engage with the season's best drivers in a most unique and fun atmosphere. The event, which will take place at the Pearl Palms Concert Theater inside the Palms Casino Hotel, has been known as the time where drivers let loose on the season celebration in a tell-all panel. From Jeff Gordon showing off his break-dancing skills, to Tony Stewart 's push-up contest victory and many other signature moments, you never know what you might get at NASCAR After The Lap. Also starting today, NASCAR Nation has the opportunity to participate in the NASCAR After The Lap Sweepstakes, and with that comes the chance for fans to win some truly once-in-a-lifetime prizes. Starting today through November 22, fans can enter to win a 2016 Ford F-150 or an all-inclusive trip for two to Las Vegas to attend the NASCAR After The Lap event, among other great prizes. Tickets for NASCAR After The Lap are priced at $20 and will go on sale September 21, but fans not able to attend can also tune in to the live stream of the event on NASCAR .com. To enter the NASCAR After The Lap sweepstakes or learn more about December's event, visit www.NASCARafterthelap.com .
RELATED: Bristol results " Chase Grid " By the numbers since Busch's return With only two races left until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, it's time to check in on Kyle Busch , driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing , as he tries to rebound from missing 11 races to early season injuries and make the Chase . He is currently the only driver with multiple wins who has yet to mathematically clinch a spot in the Chase . WHAT JUST HAPPENED: Busch started second in Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, sharing the front row with pole-sitting teammate Denny Hamlin 's No. 11 Toyota. He followed a win in Friday night's green-white-checkered finish in the XFINITY Series with an eighth-place finish in the Sprint Cup race. A green-flag stop for a loose wheel and a penalty for speeding on pit road cost Busch a shot at winning the race despite leading the most laps, 192 of 500. WHAT HE NEEDS: Staying out of trouble remains a priority. Busch must remain in the top 30 in the drivers points standings and is in 29th after Bristol, 46 points ahead of 31st-place driver Cole Whitt . But after Saturday's race, Busch is closer to 28th place, just one point behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., who finished 21st at Bristol. There is a good chance Busch could lock up his Chase spot at Darlington next week. WHAT'S NEXT: The Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Sept. 6 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). " The Lady in Black" is a tough track to tame, and the low downforce package that teams ran at Kentucky Speedway will also be used at Darlington. Busch won at Kentucky and was among the drivers who raved about the new aero package. He also has one win at Darlington, in 2008, and has an average finish there of 13.6.
RELATED: Chase Grid post-Bristol No drivers clinched a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth in the IRWIN Tools Night Race on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. That means 10 drivers are locked into a postseason spot, provided they attempt to qualify for the two remaining regular-season races. Here's a look at the bubble for the six available Chase spots. 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Already clinched: Jimmie Johnson , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kurt Busch , Martin Truex Jr ., Brad Keselowski , Denny Hamlin , Carl Edwards Note: Kyle Busch has four wins and is currently second in the Chase Grid, but has not clinched a spot in the top 30 of the points standings. On the bubble Note: Positions below are for the Chase Grid, not Sprint Cup standings 12. Jamie McMurray +41 (points ahead of 16th-place) 13 . Ryan Newman +28 14 . Paul Menard +19 15. Jeff Gordon +17 16 . Clint Bowyer -- ----------------------- 17. Aric Almirola -35 (points behind 16th-place) 18. Kasey Kahne -37 19. Greg Biffle -83 20. Austin Dillon -91 Rest of top 30 21. Kyle Larson -104 22. Danica Patrick -130 23. Casey Mears -139 24. AJ Allmendinger -140 25. David Ragan -164 26. Sam Hornish Jr . -179 27. Tony Stewart -189 28. Trevor Bayne -212 29. Ricky Stenhouse Jr . -221 30. Justin Allgaier -246
See what's coming this week to NASCAR .com Here's what you'll see on NASCAR .com this week: MONDAY: Senior writer Kenny Bruce discusses the origins of the Darlington throwback program ... George Winkler and Maggie MacKenzie debate about which driver is most likely to crash the Chase field, and which one is most likely to fall out. TUESDAY: Kyle Larson gets honest about his Chase chances ... We'll talk about the Southern 500 returning to Labor Day weekend ... Then with football season quickly approaching, RJ Kraft draws up some great comparisons and talks about which drivers are similar to some of the NFL's quarterbacks ... We will revisit all the throwback paint schemes set for Darlington in a gallery ... @nascarcasm drafts up a Facebook page using his wit and comedic puns. WEDNESDAY: Paint schemes will be on display this weekend at Darlington Raceway , and we'll have them all in Paint Scheme Preview ... As Kevin Harvick holds the points lead and has secured himself a Chase berth, senior writer Holly Cain wonders if he is even better this year than he was last year ... High 5 presents the best NASCAR content from around the web. THURSDAY: Driver Reports is back this week and highlights the 16 drivers who currently have a spot in the Chase ... Kathy Sheldon drafts up some Darlington dreams from drivers before they are set to hit the track on Friday for practice. FRIDAY: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series gets on track at Darlington Raceway with a couple of practices ... 8 Tweets highlights the best from social media in the past week. Also coming this week: Kenny Bruce will cover Bill Elliott getting inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Should there be a road course race among the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup 's 10-race playoff portion of the schedule? I have been a proponent of this since the Chase was first instituted, written several columns and debated on radio and television over many years explaining the benefit of featuring a road course -- I believe the purest test of a driver's ability -- in the Chase . And now ... it seems others don't think the idea is far-fetched. An enthusiastic, and importantly, very large crowd -- sold out reserved seating -- witnessed a great show at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International over the weekend. And as typically follows a good road course show, the question of adding one to the Chase demands extra attention and at least serious consideration. The Century Survey of 100 NASCAR industry insiders, half from the media and half from the garage (including crew members, drivers, crew chiefs, track officials and public relation representatives) was released this week after taking a poll over the past weekend on whether a road course should be added to the Chase , and if so, which one. The most popular idea was to move the Watkins Glen race into the Chase . Adding Austin's Circuit of the Americas or shifting the June Sonoma, California, race into the Chase were the next two biggest vote getters. Interesting, the biggest disparity among the voters was an 8-1 vote with people in the garage (8) against even adding a road course at all. Only one media representative didn't want to see a road course in the Chase . Ten different tracks received votes as good venues to have in the Chase . In addition to the Glen, Sonoma and COTA, Road America (Wis.), Laguna Seca (Calif.) and Road Atlanta received the next most votes in that order. And NASCAR executives have indicated they are at least listening to the voice of the fans, media and industry insiders, even if they aren't quite ready to make a big change to the Chase yet. For many years, the drivers and teams were the tough sell. But the trophy isn't a foregone conclusion anymore going to a racer like the retiring Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart or a couple road course ringers. RELATED: Let's debate adding a road course to the Chase In the 1980s and 1990s, road course races were tolerated by a large portion of the starting grid, considered a couple complicated weekends to just check off and collect as many points as possible -- two and through. It was common for drivers to show up with their helmet at a Bob Bondurant School for a quick refresher course in the days leading up to the Sonoma race and maybe hit a Skip Barber Racing School on the East Coast just before Watkins Glen. But today's NASCAR drivers embrace the skill set it takes to do well on road courses and have even come to like them and the unique challenge. There was a time for the argument that a road course race in the Chase essentially worked to the benefit of an elite group making it an unfair situation during the most important 10-week run of the season to crown a sport's champion. But that's not the case today and it's time for the Chase to turn right. "To me, always when I think of drivers that were really good, they did well on the road courses," said NASCAR's all-time road race winner Jeff Gordon . "But then you had this big drop off where drivers and teams just didn't really go after them and really struggled on them. To me, about the late 90s is when I saw everyone really putting a lot more focus and attention on them. And it started bringing the whole level of competition up higher. "By early 2000, 2001 it seemed like most of the field was good on a road course." The statistics back up Gordon. Until Kyle Busch 's win at Sonoma earlier this summer 10 of the last 11 races have been won by different drivers ranging from Clint Bowyer to Kasey Kahne , to Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr . At Watkins Glen, there have been only three repeat winners ( Tony Stewart , Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose ) in the last decade. On a FOX Sports 1 broadcast called "Fans Speak Out" this June, a poll revealed that adding a road course to the Chase was the No. 1 topic among those NASCAR fans. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell acknowledged the increasing calls for a Chase shake-up. "As you can tell, the fans voting it number one, there's certainly a lot of passion around it," O'Donnell said at the time. "It is a topic we look at each and every year. Although I don't see something in the immediate future when you look at '16, it is something that we're aware of from a fan standpoint, to look at and see if we can introduce that in the future." This week O'Donnell addressed the subject again. "We never say never to that question, but we really like where Watkins Glen fits on the schedule, the build-up, where it stands in the schedule, and drivers really going after wins," O'Donnell said Tuesday. "Some of the drivers feeling like that's their one shot to propel them into the Chase so that's a really neat storyline. It is something we'd look at down the road and would have to figure out weather considerations and that sort of thing. "But for the time being, we're really happy with where both our road courses stand in terms of how they play out throughout the regular-season schedule."