Panel of experts debate that and more as the roundtable returns RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota 1. OK folks, the field of 16 for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has been determined. Looking at this year's roster, is there a favorite in the field? Alan Cavanna: I filled out my Chase Grid (like I hope you have, print a blank one out here) -- and started with my champion, Jeff Gordon . Huge year, fast speed, and the sense that the driver from the late '90s is back. Brad Norman : I'm not so sure there is a "favorite," but there's definitely a group of "favorites." That would be the Team Penske duo and the three heavyweights at Hendrick Motorsports – sorry, Kasey Kahne . Throw in Kevin Harvick , if he gets the pit-road problems cleaned up with a new over-the-wall crew. I can't imagine a scenario in which the final four drivers at Homestead don't come from that group. Kenny Bruce: For the first time in, well, a long time, I don't think you can assume that Jimmie Johnson is a clear-cut favorite. The No. 48 team started the season slower than many expected, caught fire at mid-season but has been "average" (for them) recently. Cavanna: OK fellas, I'm the only one going out on a limb with a solid pick. C'mon now. Norman : True, Alan. If forced to pick one, I'd go with top-seeded Brad Keselowski . He's back to form, he's got a great strategist in Paul Wolfe calling the shots and the Team Penske cars have been phenomenal on those intermediate-type ovals. Of which there are five in the postseason. Bruce: I'll lean toward Alan on the Gordon pick, but I've got to give props to 2012 champ Keselowski as well. The No. 2 team has been pretty stout of late, and that momentum's got to be worth something. Cavanna: I understand though. The four drivers in the Championship Round aren't necessarily the four "best." They're the three winners, and the most consistent. A great driver will be left out of the championship race at Homestead. Norman : One thing that's most interesting about Keselowski is that Joey Logano is one of his biggest challengers. They share a garage, share info. After Logano won at Bristol and Keselowski finished second, Bad Brad was asked about how those two will continue to share info during the Chase -- and it was a topic the 2012 champion was reluctant to discuss. Bruce: I think it's interesting that Gordon and Keselowski probably feel as if they have something to prove. Keselowski for not making the Chase last year and Gordon for not winning a title in the Chase-era. And I'm not sure how much you can compare 2013 to this season, but Mr. Kenseth reeled off back-to-back wins to open the Chase a year ago, I believe. Cavanna: You beat me to it, Kenny. Ten weeks from now we'll all look like fools when Matt Kenseth is hoisting the Sprint Cup trophy. Bruce: My biggest concern with the entire JGR group is their win total this year. Three teams, two combined wins. That probably won't cut it in the Chase. Norman : For Gordon, I imagine what he's feeling is just like what a veteran may feel at any job. You see these upstarts come in and win races, you don't perform as well and perhaps you wonder if you can still hang. That's a wonderful motivator. Mr. Gordon (hey, respect your elders) can most certainly still hang. 2. Speaking of JGR, Kenseth is one of three drivers in the Chase without a win this year and two drivers, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger , are making their first appearance in the "playoff." How do we expect these guys on the bottom half of the board to fare? Norman : Certainly, you expect more from Kenseth than you do Almirola or Allmendinger because of his pedigree, his team, his equipment ... all that stuff. I'm not sure Kenseth can get to Homestead still in contention for the championship, but there's no reason he shouldn't be in the Eliminator Round. Of all the guys on the bottom of the board, I think he's clearly got the best chance. Cavanna: I'm not totally worried about the winless drivers just yet. The consistency we've seen from drivers like Kenseth and Ryan Newman should carry them forward for a round or two, even without wins. Bruce: You're spot on Brad . Given Kenseth's consistency, I expect him to advance beyond the first round, probably the second. Gets tougher after that, though. Newman has been consistent all year, Greg Biffle more so of late. I think Aric and AJ test the waters and see what it's like. But advancing would be a surprise. A nice one, but a surprise just the same. Cavanna: I hate to say I have little faith in the 47 team (Allmendinger) moving on. But, Aric Almirola is riding into the Chase with two straight top-10 finishes. If he gets three more, that will put him in the next round. Norman : I do think we're going to see a "surprise" driver advance, though. I'd pick Allmendinger, if forced to give a name. He's gotten better at intermediates. More than that, though, I can foresee a scenario in which a guy more favored to advance wrecks at Chicago, and then has a couple of gambles fail as he tries to get back in it over the next two weeks. Cavanna: Brad , I like your thinking for a roundtable rookie. I think the sport and fans are in for a big surprise. It's easy to think of the better drivers and assume they all advance. But one glance at any NCAA Tournament tells you that never happens. There's always an upset or three. Bruce: The thing about it is if a driver advances beyond the first round (Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover), Talladega looms as the cutoff race for the Contender Round and as we know, anything can happen there. How cool would it be, Alan, to see the 43 battling for a title? OK, battling for a spot in the next round? A lot of history there. Cavanna: It's a long shot, but the 43 will certainly be a chic pick for advancing to the top-12. Norman : I am the Kyle Larson of the roundtable, Alan. Cavanna: You're a dry wiper? 3. Now that we've determined who will win, who will advance and who can go ahead and start taking the yellow ID markings off their cars ... which teams on the outside are most likely to pick up a win during the final 10 races? Norman : It was rare to see that happen with frequency when there were 12 (or 13) drivers in the postseason. Now with 16? I think it'll be even more rare. The biggest contender to me, the roundtable rookie, is ... Kyle Larson. Maybe at Charlotte. Heck, he could win any of them. Bruce: I don't think it was that rare ... but the folks that won were often guys you thought would have been in the Chase to begin with most of the time. Tony Stewart , Jamie McMurray , Biffle, Denny Hamlin , Gordon. But you make a good point about the numbers decreasing the likelihood. Cavanna: Prior to the start of the season I picked Austin Dillon to win a race, with Talladega in mind. I'll stick with that. Clint Bowyer showed some promise at Richmond Saturday night, but I worry that may be the team's best performance of the season. Norman : To be fair, it happened three times last year. And if you look at who won those races, two of those guys are in the Chase field this year – Keselowski and Hamlin. And McMurray was the other, winning at Talladega which is a wild card. So if anyone outside the Chase field wins, I think it could portend a big 2015 season. Larson, Bowyer, Dillon ... what about Stewart? Cavanna: I think a lot of people are overlooking what a win by a non-Chaser does to the championship run. Every time that bell rings, it's one less automatic spot for a guy going after a championship. Bruce: Bowyer is tough at New Hampshire, so maybe it's better late than never for him and the MWR team, Alan. But I wouldn't be surprised if one of the rookies, Dillon or Larson, gets a win now that there's no Chase pressure. Norman : Alan, you make a good point about the championship run. Can you imagine in any round, if somehow a non-Chaser wins two in a row? Bruce: Your comments reminded me of something, guys. If a non-Chase driver wins a race in the Chase, does he get one of those yellow "winner" stickers to go above his window? For that matter, does anyone? Cavanna: Everyone likes rewards, Kenny. I hope the stickers remain. Norman : Everyone's a winner here, Kenny. Cavanna: Even Brad Norman's Chase beard. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
With pair of wild-card tracks, Contender Round looms large
Win puts 2012 champion into Contender Round MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota JOLIET, Ill. -- For Brad Keselowski , this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup started the same way it did in 2012 -- with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway . Clearly, Keselowski would love to see the Chase end the same way it did two years ago -- with a series championship. Needing an extra pit stop to tighten a loose wheel under caution on Lap 183 of 267 in Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at the 1.5-mile track, Keselowski restarted 16th on Lap 187, mired in traffic behind a gaggle of lapped cars. But with a determined charge through the field and a couple of opportune cautions in the final 35 laps, Keselowski regained lost track position and put himself in position to make a dramatic race-winning move after a restart on Lap 250. With third-place finisher Kyle Larson battling Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 252, Keselowski powered between the two cars off Turn 2 and grabbed the lead. "I just saw a hole, and I went for it," Keselowski said. He held the top spot for a restart on Lap 262, after an accident involving the cars of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , and pulled away to win his fifth race of the year and the 15th of his career by 1.759 seconds over Jeff Gordon , who passed Larson for the second spot in the closing laps. Joey Logano ran fourth and Harvick fifth, as Chase drivers took eight of the top 10 finishing positions. With his second victory at Chicagoland, Keselowski ensured he would advance to the next round of the Chase under a new format that features a trio of three-race elimination rounds and a final race at Homestead to settle the championship between the last four eligible drivers. With the starting order set according to speeds in opening Sprint Cup practice because of a qualifying rainout, Keselowski started 25th and worked his way to the front, only to fall back again when he brought the No. 2 Team Penske Ford to pit road to have the loose wheel tightened. "I'm not really sure what to say," said Keselowski, who can race for the next two weeks without fear of falling out of the Chase. "I don't really know what happened. I just know we got to the lead. There was traffic and I was just digging and in the zone. The recorder was turned off, so I don't remember what happened. "I had my head down doing all I could do. We had a great Miller Lite Ford Fusion that I knew from the start would be good, but, man, it was really awesome the last few runs. We really dialed it in and the 2 crew did an excellent job. What a day! Man, I am still pumped!" Larson, driving a backup car after a brush with the outside wall in Saturday morning practice, appeared headed for the first victory of his Cup career, before Carl Edwards ' cut tire brought out the fourth caution on Lap 231. That yellow, which interrupted a cycle of green-flag pit stops, leap-frogged Keselowski to the fourth spot for a restart on Lap 238. Seven laps later, caution for Clint Bowyer ’s contact with the Turn 1 wall set up Keselowski's opportunity to make the winning move. "Man, I was so close," a rueful Larson said of his lost opportunity. "I didn't need that caution there. I was just cruising out front, and then we got that yellow, and I had to battle Harvick really hard then. That allowed Brad to get by both of us. It really ended our shot at a win there. We had one more shot there at the last restart, but just didn't have enough for Brad . "He was really good around the bottom. He was about the only car that I thought could get around the bottom all race long. I had a lot of fun gripping the wall. I ran inches off of it the whole race and finally got into it there battling Jeff. Man, for a back-up car, that was amazing… I just hate it that we came up short." If Larson had speed, Chase drivers Edwards, AJ Allmendinger and Greg Biffle did not. None of the three drivers was quick enough to stay on the lead lap, and with respective finishes of 20th, 22nd and 23rd, all are in jeopardy of elimination after the third race of the Chase at Dover. The real casualty of Sunday’s race, however, was Aric Almirola , who was running sixth just before the engine in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford failed as he was coming to pit road for a green-flag stop on Lap 231. Almirola finished 41st and is in grave danger of missing the cut two races hence. Up next for the Sprint Cup Series is the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). It is the second of three races in the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Kyle Busch dominated early, but cautions changed the course of the race RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today JOLIET, Ill. -- In a race that Kyle Busch had dominated, his 141 laps led coming in the first 154 laps of Saturday's Jimmy John's FreakyFast 300, a late-race caution added some spice to the NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Six laps later, the real shakeup occurred. Consecutive yellow flags on Lap 153 and Lap 166 turned a rather A-B-C type of event into a free-for-all, with Kevin Harvick pulling away for the win as the field continually jumbled itself behind him. The caution on Lap 153, the fifth of the day, saw every possible scenario unfold. Three cars ( Brian Scott , Chris Buescher and Aric Almirola ) stayed out, some cars pitted for fuel only (including Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan ), some took two tires (including Harvick) and some took four (Busch, Trevor Bayne ). The yellow that fell on Lap 166 scrambled those strategies even further, as those who saved tires had to pit frenetically to put them on, and those that considered a long green-flag run were left disappointed. "We thought it was better to save a set and try to do something with them later," said Regan Smith , who pitted for four tires and came out 16th. He finished eighth. "The problem is that next caution came too early and didn't really allow us to utilize them." Still, it was a somewhat satisfying ending for Smith, whose No. 7 Chevrolet only ran in the top-10 after gaining significant ground on pit road. What made the finish even more palatable is seeing JR Motorsports teammate and series points leader Chase Elliott finishing two spots behind him in 10th. Elliott's day was the exact opposite of Smith's. His car ran up front all day and led two laps, but misfired on pit road late. There was a miscommunication on the Lap 153 pit stop, and the No. 9 team put on four tires when the call was for two. "We struggled all day. We'd have a good run, bad run, good run, bad run," Smith said. "(Crew chief) Ryan (Pemberton) made the right call and bailed us out today. I messed up at the end (by losing a spot), and I cost us points. Kind of frustrated about that, but we fought hard and what looked like was going to be a big points loss turned into us gaining a few." Bayne made four tires work well, but he was one of the few to do so. Harvick won the race after taking two tires, and Bayne lost ground early and nearly couldn't catch back up after the final caution lasted eight laps while crews cleaned the track. In fact, the driver of the No. 6 didn't climb into the top five until the final few laps to finish fifth, his best effort since a third-place showing on Aug. 2 at Iowa Speedway . "I was glad to be on four tires," Bayne said. "We did lose a lot of track position, so I was hoping it would pay off. The hardest part was watching all those laps go by as they put the SpeedyDry down, and you're watching valuable laps click away that you need to get that position." Not everyone who took four tires was as pleased as Bayne, though. Busch went from running in the lead to restarting 16th on Lap 159. The following short green-flag run slowed his run, and although he would finish third, it wasn't a happy top-five effort. "We knew we needed to come down and get tires, and obviously four was the wrong call," Busch said. "It put us behind and I fought my butt out there and could only get to third. … I don't know." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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Four-win regular season sets Penske driver apart RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize Last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Brad Keselowski 's reign as 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion ended with a sixth-place finish, a shrug and a resolution to do better next time. It also occurred against the backdrop of Jimmie Johnson celebrating his coronation amid a confetti and champagne shower as a six-time champ. Little did people know that the resolve to improve from Keselowski and Team Penske would be so strong. After being on the wrong side of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs last year, Keselowski and co. are steamrolling into the postseason as the No. 1 seed, clinching the top spot with a runaway of a victory Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway . "I couldn't ask for a better way to enter the Chase than to win and take the first seed," Keselowski said. "We're ready. We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this team has it." Keselowski separated himself from a pack of three-win drivers in the regular-season finale, snaring victory No. 4 in dominating fashion. With the amount of sheer speed his No. 2 Ford has shown at the variety of tracks in the 10-race Chase, a second Sprint Cup title in a three-year span is a realistic possibility. But the Roger Penske-owned operation has produced stellar race cars for both teams that reside at his Mooresville, North Carolina shop. Besides Keselowski's four wins, teammate Joey Logano has claimed three for the group's No. 22 Ford, tying him with the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon and Johnson -- all with three regular-season triumphs. While the stage may seemingly be set for a Hendrick vs. Penske showdown in the postseason, Keselowski isn't discounting Joe Gibbs Racing , Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing -- all teams that also have multiple drivers in the title-eligible pool, ready to try to find running room and avoid the three eliminations in the new Chase format. "It's an interesting layout for the next 10 races," Keselowski said. "All the teams have different strengths and weaknesses. Over the summer stretch there were certainly some tracks in (the Hendrick) wheelhouse. I think we have a lot of tracks coming up that are in ours over the next few weeks. It's really hard to say. It seems like everybody seems to find another level when it comes time for the Chase. There could be somebody out there sleeping. I think the Gibbs cars have been performing really well, at least at Atlanta and the weeks prior to that. They could certainly be an issue and a threat as well. "Over the summer stretch, I thought we were a little bit behind, but boy, did we nail it right here tonight. That's part of the fun." The summer swoon etched in Keselowski's mind was a seven-race period from late June to early August where the team finished outside the top 10 five times. The other two races, however, were convincing victories at Kentucky and New Hampshire, the latter of which is the second battle in this year's Chase schedule. Saturday night's win, Keselowski's third in 10 races, continued the season-long trend of speed before and during the race that has become the No. 2 crew's trademark. Keselowski has started on the front row a sterling 11 times in 26 races this season, including four Coors Light Pole Awards. But count Penske, the Captain himself, among those not scheduling a fitting for championship rings just yet. "Obviously being the top seed is a tremendous effort for the team and certainly puts us in a great place, but we're not blind," said Penske, who tapped Keselowski for a full-time ride with his team starting in 2010. "We know there's plenty of guys out there that beat us; they're going to want to. What we have to do is stay on course." The path -- at least early on -- is one that Keselowski has already paved with a degree of success in the past. The 30-year-old driver has won at each of the Chase's first three tracks (Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover), but he isn't taking advancing from the opening Challenger Round onward as a given. "I don't know. Nobody knows," Keselowski said. "I do know we have different strengths and weaknesses. As to which ones are the strengths you need to have and which ones are the weaknesses you can get away with or vice versa, time will tell." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation