Chase pursuit, Truck Series tussle remain hot topics
RELATED: Provisional Chase grid " Series standings With just one regular-season race left before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is locked in, several pressing questions remain. Before playoff time ramps up in earnest for all three national series, NASCAR.com reporters Kenny Bruce and Zack Albert sat down to discuss a trio of topics before this weekend's events at Richmond International Raceway : Among the drivers who haven't won so far this year, who is your favorite to score a last-minute victory to secure their ticket for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs? Bruce : The veterans on the outside of the Chase haven't run well enough of late to be a threat while the youngsters lack the experience. But give the kids a nod at Richmond, specifically Chase Elliott . He's been in the top five enough this year to handle the pressure of racing for a win with so much on the line. Albert: Here's rating the likelihood fairly low for rampant 11th-hour movement along the Chase cut line, but forced to pick a best-chance ticket puncher, Ryan Newman deserves a look. Granted it's been more than a decade, but Newman has won at Richmond before. Plus, as if the postseason wasn't motivation enough, Wednesday's 15-point penalty for a Darlington infraction should leave the RCR No. 31 bunch with a point to prove Saturday night. How do you rate Chris Buescher 's chances for maintaining his top-30 position in the Sprint Cup points standings and meeting that requirement for Chase eligibility? Bruce : If Buescher goes to Richmond and focuses on running his own race, he'll be fine. If the team gets caught up in focusing on what others are doing, they'll wind up as the only team with a win that's not in the Chase. The key is for the folks on the No. 34 to not beat themselves. Albert: Front Row Motorsports has made an impression with their scrappy nature, and Buescher has provided the underdog No. 34 team with a shot at its first postseason appearance. Only complete catastrophe coupled with an improbable David Ragan top-10 would unravel those hopes. Provided FRM leans on its Roush Fenway Racing affiliation this weekend, Buescher should cruise into the field of 16. Will Sunday's Camping World Truck Series dust-up between Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek have a lasting impact into the Chase? Bruce : It's very likely that Cole Custer 's Chase hopes went up in smoke -- and grass and dirt, etc. -- in the last-lap incident with John Hunter Nemechek this past weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park . With Nemechek already qualified, the likelihood of a forgive-and-forget is slim. Custer's JR Motorsports team is solid enough to win -- or keep someone else from doing so if the situation presents itself. Albert: Nemechek's last-lap mugging at Mosport made such a dramatic impact that not only will Cole Custer race him differently going forward, others in the Camping World Truck Series garage may think twice about giving the youngster the benefit of the doubt on the track. The truck series has already established itself as a solid proving ground for young talent. Sunday's race offered a reminder that it's a launching pad for the NASCAR rivalries of the future, as well.
Voting for 2016 NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award Opens Sept. 4
RELATED: Cast your vote DARLINGTON, S.C. (Sept. 3, 2016) -- Voting for the National Motorsports Press Association Sprint Most Popular Driver Award will officially open Sunday, Sept. 4. The award, sponsored by Sprint and administered by the NMPA, is the only major NASCAR award determined solely by fan vote. It has been presented annually since 1953. The 2016 voting period will open at 12 a.m. ET Sunday and close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 20. To vote for this year's award, fans can visit www.mostpopulardriver.com through either desktop or the NASCAR MOBILE app. Voting is limited to one vote per person per email address per day. Fans are encouraged to share their votes through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Eligible drivers for this year's award are those who have declared for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. NASCAR Hall of Fame member and 1988 series champion Bill Elliott holds the record for most MPD awards with 16; Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . has won the award for the past 13 seasons. Nineteen drivers have earned MPD honors on one or more occasions since its inception. "The launch of the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award is one of the most anticipated events of the season for many fans," Kenny Bruce , president of the NMPA, said. "NASCAR fans are the most passionate you'll find in any sport and the NMPA considers it an honor to allow them to determine the sport's most popular driver. "We are pleased to present this year's program once again with series sponsor Sprint, whose help and guidance have been invaluable in bringing the Most Popular Driver program to fans." Sprint has been the presenting sponsor of the MPD Award since 2014. The winner of this year's award will be announced during the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards program on Friday, Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. NBCSN will air the post-season program beginning at 9 p.m. ET. MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR will carry the awards show live. A $10,000 donation will be made to the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver's charity of choice on behalf of the NMPA. NMPA MOST POPULAR DRIVER AWARD Year – Recipient 2015 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2014 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2013 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2012 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2011 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2010 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2009 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2008 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2007 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2006 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2005 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2004 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2003 - Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2002 - Bill Elliott 2001 - Dale Earnhardt 2000 - Bill Elliott 1999 - Bill Elliott 1998 - Bill Elliott 1997 - Bill Elliott 1996 - Bill Elliott 1995 - Bill Elliott 1994 - Bill Elliott 1993 - Bill Elliott 1992 - Bill Elliott 1991 - Bill Elliott 1990 - Darrell Waltrip 1989 - Darrell Waltrip 1988 - Bill Elliott 1987 - Bill Elliott 1986 - Bill Elliott 1985 - Bill Elliott 1984 - Bill Elliott 1983 - Bobby Allison 1982 - Bobby Allison 1981 - Bobby Allison 1980 - David Pearson 1979 - David Pearson 1978 - Richard Petty 1977 - Richard Petty 1976 - Richard Petty 1975 - Richard Petty 1974 - Richard Petty 1973 - Bobby Allison 1972 - Bobby Allison 1971 - Bobby Allison 1970 - Richard Petty 1969 - Bobby Isaac 1968 - Richard Petty 1967 - Cale Yarborough 1966 - Darel Dieringer 1965 - Fred Lorenzen 1964 - Richard Petty 1963 - Fred Lorenzen 1962 - Richard Petty 1961 - Joe Weatherly 1960 - Rex White 1959 - Jack Smith 1958 - Glen Wood 1957 - Fireball Roberts 1956 - Curtis Turner 1955 - Tim Flock 1954 - Lee Petty 1953 - Lee Petty
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard. -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard, backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard, so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Can RCR stay on top at the Tricky Triangle?
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield and Kenny Bruce talk about Richard Childress Racing's success at Pocono Raceway and how Jeff Gordon will do with the No.88 team the second time around.
Key takeaways from Pocono
Kenny Bruce breaks down the key takeaways from the NASCAR action at Pocono
The Climb: Can two favorites rebound in Pocono?
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield and Kenny Bruce make their picks on who they think can climb their way through the field in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Key takeaways from Indianapolis
Kenny Bruce offers the key takeaways from the Sprint Cup action at Indianapolis
Bruce : Throwbacks or not, Darlington chock full of lasting memories
RELATED: Paint schemes, then and now DARLINGTON, S.C. -- What year was it, 1985? The season Bill Elliott captured the Winston Million bonus the very first season it was put up for grabs by then-series sponsor RJ Reynolds? Ol' Bill, who would finish the season with an amazing 11 victories but lose the championship battle to Darrell Waltrip. Recollections of Elliott smiling broadly as "Million Dollar Bills" floated through the air in Victory Lane. That was probably it, the first time I covered a NASCAR premier series race at Darlington Raceway . The backstretch today was the frontstretch then, the big red press box and suites sitting there just outside Turn 1. It provided a grand view, possibly one of the best of any stops on the circuit. Watching the field roar out of the fourth turn, so incredibly close to the wall. Then flying down the frontstretch, hammer down and into Turn 1 to start the process all over again. Just sitting there. Soaking it all in. Overlooking history in the making. More than three decades. Time does fly, I suppose. The track's hugely popular throwback program, now in its second season, rekindles a lot of racing memories. Paint schemes that we haven't seen in years suddenly re-appear, roll out of the garage and in a sense, roll back the calendar. But then again the memories always stir a bit when it comes to Darlington. No throwback program is necessary. Maybe it's because the track is an honest-to-goodness landmark, cut out of the sandy soil by Harold Brasington and opened for business in 1950. It was NASCAR's first paved oval of more than 1 mile in length. Brasington had a vision and wasn't shy about pursuing it. But more than that he was also a kind and caring soul to all of us and I never make the trek down here for a race without thinking about him. The action on the track? Yeah, that stands out, too. But it wasn't always the kind of things you hoped to be writing about -- hard crashes and injuries could, and did, happen other places as well but a couple that occurred here haven't been forgotten. Neil Bonnett's crash in the spring race of 1990 is one of them. The extremely personable Bonnett was one of 10 drivers collected in the Turn 4 incident during that year's spring race. Briefly knocked unconscious, Bonnett was eventually transferred to the local hospital and hours later it was reported that he was suffering from amnesia. More than a decade later, it was Steve Park. The Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver was competing in a Busch (now XFINITY ) Series event when, under caution, his Chevrolet suddenly veered left and into the path of Larry Foyt. The impact was tremendous to have happened under caution. But the sadness of such instances doesn't completely overshadow the good times. Jeff Gordon 's Winston Million victory in 1997, the final year of that format, was the perfect bookend to that program's 13-year run. His battle with Jeff Burton in the closing laps of that race was as memorable as any that have unfolded on the 1.366-mile track. Speaking of Burton, there are recollections of his 1999 Darlington sweep in a pair of rain-shortened races here; toss in Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch bringing the fans to their feet with an absolutely amazing finish in 2003; and Regan Smith rising up with the then-small Furniture Row Racing operation to slay the field, and Carl Edwards in 2011. This year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , scheduled to get underway Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the 67th running of the legendary classic. I've seen some of the cars and heard many of the stories from several of the men who were there when the legend of Darlington began. For a lot of others, I've been there to witness it firsthand. It's been worth every minute of it.
Bruce : Toyota the Chase favorites? Absolutely
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. RICHMOND, Va. -- It began as a Toyota blowout and ended in pretty much the same fashion. Not that there weren't some bumps in the road -- or in this case, Richmond International Raceway -- along the way. But they were few and far between. Denny Hamlin , the winner when the season began back in February in Daytona, closed the door on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season with a victory in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 . It was Hamlin's third win of the season, the 11th for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization and the 13th for Toyota. No need to pencil the Joe Gibbs gang in as favorites in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup . Write it in ink. Joe Gibbs Racing . Chase favorites. Doesn't mean a JGR driver, or even a Toyota team -- let's not overlook Martin Truex Jr . and the Furniture Row Racing group -- will waltz away with the title a little more than two months from now. NASCAR races are often strange affairs filled with strange occurrences. Such was the case Saturday night. Toyota teams led 197 of the first 200 laps and 385 of the 407 that made up the extended 400-lap event. But along the way, particularly in the second half of the race when the air was filled with yellow flags, the start-and-stop nature of the race threatened to turn the event into something completely different. Excessive pit stops meant more tires, but the allotment for each race is finite. Eventually you run out. No one did, fortunately. The racing was physical and no one seemed spared. For those with Chase hopes, however slim, still hanging in the balance, there was no packing it in for the night. Instead it was, fix it fast and get back out there. But in the end, it was a race dominated by Toyotas and that's been the case quite a number of times this year. With only 10 races remaining, can anyone derail the automaker's efforts? "I would say I feel pretty confident in our cars," winning crew chief Mike Wheeler said afterward. "That's a good feeling to have." His own team, he said, has gone into the Chase with the feeling that the No. 11 team could win some races and be competitive. "But you always had this feeling of you can get beat," he said. "If you're not at 100 percent you can get beat. "I feel good now that if we hit 100 percent, we will win. That's something you strive for." JGR fields four teams for drivers Hamlin, defending series champion Kyle Busch , 2003 champ Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards . Toss in Truex and Furniture Row as well. "We share notes. We work together," Wheeler said. "We do the best we can for not only Joe Gibbs Racing but Toyota." But as JGR owner Joe Gibbs noted, Wheeler said, "All it takes is a flat tire or a crash and you're out." That's the new nature of the Chase, where elimination rounds trim the 16-team field by a quarter after every three races. One problem, and a season's over. Ten races from now, someone will be crowned 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Someone who avoids the unavoidable and doesn't beat themselves. "I think the other cars that are out there, there's so many … well‑prepared cars, I think this is going to be a battle," Gibbs said. "I think … there's no way that you can I think pick a favorite right now because it's really three‑race playoffs (to get to Homestead and the championship round)." Hamlin has fallen by the wayside before, and so, too, has Busch. "You can't afford a bad race," Gibbs said. "Our playoff is one where you got to be consistent, but also you got to be on your game and racing extremely hard. I don't think there is a favorite right now. I think everybody that's in there is going to have a shot." Folks thought that going into Richmond, too. Until Hamlin and Gibbs and Toyota proved 'em all wrong.
Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !