Early release, Chase swap highlight '17 schedule
RELATED: See the full 2017 schedules here NASCAR released its 2017 national series schedules on Thursday -- months prior to the more typical fall arrival -- and among the significant news is a Chase -time swap between two of the tracks on the Cup schedule. Although the order and dates of races in NASCAR's premier series remain mostly intact, a noteworthy change involves swapping the Chase race order at Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway . For 2017, Talladega (Oct. 15) will be the second race in the Round of 12 with Kansas becoming the third -- and elimination -- race (Oct. 22) for the Round of 12. This past weekend, Talladega recorded the second-highest number of green-flag passes for the lead in the track's great history (213), and the series heads to Kansas this week for a Saturday night show with its revamped rules package. NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Jim Cassidy caught up with reporters Thursday at Kansas Speedway , explaining the dynamics of the schedule swap and the enhancements to the Chase . Cassidy said that with the new reduced downforce package in place, driver input and a team's ability to adjust at an intermediate-sized track would play a greater role in determining eliminations. "I would say it definitely adds a different layer of pressure for the competitors; I would say it adds certainly to the weekend and to the Chase overall," Cassidy said. "But at the same time it does not take away from, on the Talladega side, what the fans are going to get. To me, it's good for the fans on either side because … no matter when you go to Talladega you're going to see a product that is quite frankly some of the most popular racing that we've got on the circuit. Now with Kansas in that spot, you add another layer of complexity to a very compelling playoff format." NASCAR credited an "unprecedented" collaboration among the industry for being able to complete and announce the upcoming 2017 schedule so early in 2016, specifically noting the importance of the five-year sanctioning agreement between NASCAR and its tracks. "Announcing the 2017 national series schedules this early in the season is another example of the collaborative spirit across the NASCAR industry," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell said. "It's an exciting time in NASCAR, with some of the most intriguing racing we've seen in years. With the 2017 schedule solidified, the industry can now concentrate on the remainder of this season while planning for the future much earlier than in previous years." RELATED: Explaining the five-year agreement The other big date news is that Dover International Speedway 's spring race will be moved back a month to June 4 -- a week after the Coca-Cola 600 -- versus a date in May this year. And Michigan International Speedway 's second race returns to its traditional August timeframe -- Aug. 13. Texas Motor Speedway 's spring race will also be held on Sunday afternoon, rather than Saturday night. The Cup schedule begins with the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26. Its regular-season finale at Richmond is Sept. 9, with the first round of the 10-stop playoff slate scheduled for Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway . The 2017 champion will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19. As for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedules, they will open the new season at Daytona on Feb. 25 and Feb. 24, respectively. The XFINITY Series will feature four stand-alone events -- at Iowa Speedway (July 29), Mid-Ohio (Aug. 12), Road America (Aug. 26) and Kentucky Speedway (Sept. 23). The Kentucky event opens the NASCAR XFINTY Series Chase . The Camping World Truck Series will host five stand-alone events on its 23-race schedule, including the hugely popular race at Eldora Speedway on July 19. It will kick off its postseason at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 23. Iowa Speedway will again host an XFINITY and Camping World Truck series doubleheader on June 23-24. Contributing: Kenny Bruce in Kansas City. RELATED: Learn more about all 23 Cup tracks
Bowyer: Racing is 'about what you're going to do tomorrow'
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Those heat-of-the-moment tirades that fans are able to hear during the course of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race might be entertaining, but they don't always tell the whole story, according to HScott Motorsports driver Clint Bowyer . "Whether I'm frustrated or happy or whatever … whether it's a (celebration) or a pissed off moment that happens, the wick's pretty short," Bowyer said Thursday at Kansas Speedway , site of Saturday's GoBowling 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "It burns out in about five minutes. The next thing out of my mouth is 'Alright, now what are we going to do to fix it?' " Bowyer, 36, is in a transition year, spending the 2016 season as driver of the No. 15 Chevrolet for HSM. He'll move over to Stewart-Haas Racing in '17, inheriting the No. 14 ride currently occupied by co-owner/driver Tony Stewart . An early-season start that saw the driver finish inside the top 20 only once in seven races frustrated the eight-time winner, and that frustration often could be heard as he vented to his team on the radio during races. But it's what takes place after the pot has boiled over, he said, that determines what occurs next. "I don't ever care about yesterday or what happened in a practice or a race," he said. "… This sport is all about what you're going to do tomorrow. That's what you have to instill into yourself and everybody around you to be able to go out there and get the job done, compete at the level I know we're capable of competing at for our sponsors and for ourselves." Bowyer hasn't been to Victory Lane in a Sprint Cup race since the 2012 season, a span of 123 races. He did qualify for last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup based on points earned, but was eliminated in the first round. HScott fields two Sprint Cup teams -- the No. 15 of Bowyer as well as the No. 46 for driver Michael Annett . Bowyer enters this weekend's race 27th in points while Annett is 35th. But two of the last three races have seen Bowyer finish inside the top 10 -- he was eighth at Bristol and seventh most recently at Talladega. "I was struggling to get that kind of consistency where I was last year," he said of his final season at the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing. "When you're down, most of the time there's a reason, especially when you're down as far as we' re down. We had work to do; we're starting to get some new waves of cars built, get some things to where we are satisfied with them and excited about bringing them to the track and seeing what our hard work has done. That's all you can do." Anyone should be frustrated, he said, if they felt their performance as a driver or their team's performance wasn't up to par. That doesn't mean a team no longer attempts to improve. "When you're running good, it's easy," Bowyer said. "When you're running bad, it's the hardest thing you've ever done in your life. I don't care what organization you're at or how much depth you have or anything else. It's that simple. … "This is hard. This is a hard business and it's very competitive. If you're good, you better work hard to stay good or you're not going to be there long. If you're bad, you've got to work hard to get caught up."
NASCAR: Tony Stewart granted Chase waiver
RELATED: Full Stewart coverage Tony Stewart , who will return to the track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway after missing the first eight races of the season, has been granted a waiver making him eligible to qualify for the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , according to NASCAR. "NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell. "We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck." Because he did not attempt to qualify for every race, Stewart would not have been eligible for the 2016 postseason without the waiver. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver and co-owner is now in the same position as Kyle Busch in 2015. The clearest path to the postseason, as Busch proved last year, is for Stewart to win one race before the regular season ends at Richmond in the fall, and climb into the top 30 in the points standings. "Smoke" injured his back in an all-terrain vehicle accident in late January, and has been sidelined since. He's been prevalent at the track, though, as drivers Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers have filled his seat.
Bing predicts the 16 drivers for the Chase
LEARN MORE: About Bing PLAY NOW: Play the Chase Grid Battle Game here Statistical analysis has taken on a life of its own in modern-day professional sports, and NASCAR is no different. And perhaps the most important number in the sport this week is 16 -- as in the drivers eligible to advance to the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Who's going to make the 16-driver field when the smoke clears at Richmond? We're glad you asked. One of the exciting new features in this year's Chase Grid Battle Game Powered by Bing is the inclusion of Bing Predicts, a methodology that will provide round-by-round forecasts and help you advance to a fantasy championship. And as you sign up for the game and start to make your picks, keep in mind Bing recently has made accurate forecasts for the Women's World Cup and the Tour de France. To whet your appetite, below is a list of which drivers Bing predicts will make the 2015 Chase (ordered by points , which is why you will see Kyle Busch in 16th place). Come back in future weeks for more predictions by Bing . 1. Kevin Harvick 2. Joey Logano 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr . 4. Brad Keselowski 5. Jimmie Johnson 6. Martin Truex Jr . 7. Matt Kenseth 8. Kurt Busch 9. Denny Hamlin 10. Jamie McMurray 11. Jeff Gordon 12. Ryan Newman 13. Carl Edwards 14. Paul Menard 15. Clint Bowyer 16. Kyle Busch Notes: -- Entering Richmond, Kyle Busch was 27th in points but had a win and was in the top 30, making him eligible for the Chase . Bing predicts he will rise to 25th in points after Richmond. -- Entering Richmond, Kasey Kahne was 17th while Aric Almirola was 16th. Bing predicts Kahne will overtake Almirola after Richmond, but it will not be enough to pass Clint Bowyer , who will earn the final berth in the Chase for a winless driver.
Chase first-timers McMurray, Menard savor their shot
RELATED: Meet all 16 drivers in the Chase JOLIET, Ill. -- Thursday's playoff-opening media day for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was graced by the arrival of two newcomers in the 16-driver field. Neither was new enough to need a name tag, but Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard both savored the spotlight that comes with their newfound championship eligibility. "Quite honestly, I've never paid attention to what happens at Chase Media Day," McMurray said as he made media rotations at The Murphy in downtown Chicago. "I don't know that I had any idea what all of this was. When we showed up today and took our photo out front when we initially got here, I thought we were literally here for a photo in front of this building and I wasn't sure why. And then when I walked in and saw all this -- amazing. It somewhat reminds you of a condensed version of what we do at Daytona every year." With the meet-and-greets out of the way, both first-timers settle down to the business end of their Chase debut this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway , site of Sunday's MyAFibRisk.com 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the first of 10 playoff races that will determine the Sprint Cup champion. Both found out quickly that the event is no ordinary race, as evidenced by the build-up and obligations before the Challenger Round opens. Both drivers participated in Chase Across North America activities Tuesday: McMurray loaded into Talladega to help a group of middle school students paint a car in Victory Lane, while Menard traveled to Martinsville for a parade and the key to the city. Both then traveled to Kansas Speedway for Wednesday's test session before arriving for Thursday's festivities in the Windy City. The Chase marks uncharted ground for both, but on-track activity and the normal flow of the weekend schedule should provide some familiarity. "I've never been in this position before, so I'm just taking it like I take every week with a busier week leading up to the event this week obviously," Menard said. "But ... I feel good about how we're approaching it. We're just going to put our heads down and go as far in this deal as we can." The wait for a Chase berth has been a lengthy one for McMurray, whose first premier-series start came roughly a year and a half before the 10-race playoff system debuted in 2004. Since then, his career has been dotted with Chase near-misses, but he secured his spot in the field as the top points -earner among non-winners. The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver doesn't see the zero in his win column as an impediment, citing the example of Ryan Newman last year in the first go-round for the new-look Chase . Newman weathered eliminations all the way to the championship round without a win in 2014, something McMurray said he's capable of replicating thanks to the No. 1 team's consistency this season. "For sure, it obviously has been a long time," McMurray said. "I'm really proud of our team and what we've been able to do to make the Chase . I think I'm most proud that we would've made it in any format. It wasn't necessarily that you're the last guy to get in. We were in the top 10 in points all year long and that's a huge accomplishment for us." The wait has been slightly less prolonged for Menard, who joined the Sprint Cup Series full time in 2007. He wound up as the final driver to qualify for the Chase , 17 points ahead of Aric Almirola . RELATED: Top quotes from Chase Media Day If the Richard Childress Racing driver has an X-factor, it could be from his cult following in social media circles. Though he's among a handful of drivers who aren't on Twitter, he said he's felt the modest groundswell of support from the loyal Menard faithful. "What is there -- 15 nations and one empire? Is that what they say?" Menard said, referring to both the Chase "driver nation" branding and the @PMenardEmpire Twitter account. "No, it's cool. I've actually met Jory, who does the Paul Menard Empire. He's been to a few races and I've met him. Then just randomly … somebody came up -- it was in Richmond -- and said they wanted to meet the emperor. So I signed an autograph. It's cool. I hear about it and it's a pretty cool deal."
Almirola's consistency could be enough to make Chase
But RPM driver is shooting for a playoff-clinching win instead SPARTA, Ky. -- Aric Almirola was in a comfortable place this time last season. The No. 43 driver was on the heels of his first Sprint Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway, a victory that locked him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . The scenario looks much different for the No. 43 driver this year heading into Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Winless in 2015 and ranked 16th in the standings, Almirola sits on the delicate bubble of making the Chase -- or falling just short. "We just need to run like we've been running," Almirola said Friday before the rain-shortened Sprint Cup Series practice at Kentucky. "We've got to execute and we've got to take advantage of everything we can. "We've got to be more consistent like we have been and run top 15, and we can't have any more mistakes from here to Richmond. We've got to finish races and can't have any DNFs. We've got to put pressure on some of the guys ahead of us in points to hope they make mistakes." Almirola's to-do list for the No. 43 team in the nine races before the Chase cut-off is long, but doesn't vary too much from what they've already been doing. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver currently boasts an average finish of 18.1 and nine top-15 results, including a fifth-place finish at Dover. His consistency alone has given him an opportunity to earn a spot in the Chase on points -- but a solidifying win would certainly ease the pressure for Almirola & Co. However, Victory Lane will be a tall order this weekend, as the rough-and-bumpy Kentucky isn't the easiest place to take the checkered. "Having the bumps be as aggressive as they are here, you have to run your car higher or else the car bottoms out a lot," Almirola said. "So with running the car higher it becomes a little bit more of a balance for the crew chiefs and engineers to get the car to ride across the bumps smoothly enough without being too harsh, but then to be able to get the car down and low to the race track in the corners, where it's not as bumpy. "The crew chiefs and engineers fight that and pull their hair out trying to figure out a good setup for here." Mother Nature has provided the teams with another hair-pulling situation, as rain has canceled and shortened practices for all three series since Wednesday. With limited practice sessions, the ever-growing possibility of "weepers" and the unknown of the new aero package that is debuting this weekend, Sprint Cup drivers will have their hands full come Saturday evening. Almirola isn't worried. "At the end of the day we're all professionals," Almirola said. "Race car drivers will get in anything and go drive it, so we'll adapt. That's what we do. We adapt to however the car is driving from weekend to weekend or whatever rules package we've got. I think it's important for the crew chiefs and engineers to get some laps and understand where their travels are gonna be, to understand how the car is gonna react to different changes compared to the different rules packages we've had in the past. "I'm anxious. I'm excited to go drive it and I'm excited to see how the race is gonna play out, to be honest with you. I know the hope is that we'll be able to race more side-by-side and pass each other, so I'm looking forward to seeing if that's the case." As Almirola and the No. 43 team work to earn their first win this season, they'll have the aid of a new sponsor: Armour Meats, a family brand of primary sponsor Smithfield Foods. The company will also host a sweepstakes in which a fan will win a trip for four to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Sprint Cup Series season finale. Click here to enter for a chance to win. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Chase standings update after Chicagoland
RELATED: Full standings " Chicagoland race results Advancing: Denny Hamlin rebounded from a 29th-place starting position and an early spin to win Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in the opener for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . As a result, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver advanced to the Contender Round. It was Hamlin's first win in 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Chicagoland, and it came a little more than a week since the Joe Gibbs Racing driver tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing basketball. Four out: These four drivers would not advance to the next round (Contender) if the Challenger Round ended today. (Note: The Challenger Round ends in two weeks at Dover International Speedway .) Jamie McMurray (two points behind 12th-place driver) Paul Menard (-3) Clint Bowyer (-5) Kevin Harvick (-22) Reason for hope: Ryan Newman kept his No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet out of trouble on Sunday and posted a fourth-place finish, his ninth top-10 finish in 14 starts at Chicagoland. He moved up to eighth place in the Chase standings and is 12 points ahead of McMurray, who is in 13th place. Reason for worry: Defending champion Kevin Harvick ran into trouble on Lap 135 when his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet came into contact with Jimmie Johnson 's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS. A few laps later Harvick's tire went down and caused him to spin and wreck. He had to go to the garage and finished 42nd. Now Harvick needs a win in the next two races -- or to be near-perfect and see someone else fall behind in points -- for him to advance. Up next: Sylvania 300 , 2 p.m. ET, Sept. 27 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) Who it favors Most wins: 3 -- Jeff Gordon , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Ryan Newman Best driver rating: 106.7 -- Jeff Gordon Best average finish: 10.2 -- Brad Keselowski Who it hurts Fewest top 10s: 6 -- Jamie McMurray (in 25 starts), Carl Edwards (22), Martin Truex Jr . (19) Worst driver rating: 61.4 -- Paul Menard Worst average finish: 20.7 -- Jamie McMurray
Wreck ruins Bowyer's race, impacts Chase standings
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings " Chase Grid BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Luck wasn't with Clint Bowyer 's No. 15 Toyota at Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway -- at least not good luck. "(Expletive.) Just about my luck," Bowyer said after the Michael Waltrip Racing driver got the worst of a snarled restart on Lap 126. Carl Edwards spun his wheels, causing slowing on the restart after a debris caution. Part of the reaction to that was Ryan Newman 's No. 31 Chevrolet making slight contact with the No. 15, sending Bowyer's speedy ride up into the outside wall then back across the track and hard backward into the pit road wall. At that point, Bowyer had led a lap and was in the top five most of the day. Told that Newman didn't mean to hit him, Bowyer responded, "I know. The 2 (of Brad Keselowski ) came up loose and out of control; I had to move up. It wasn't (Newman's) fault. … (Expletive) stupid." The rear suspension took a hard hit, sending the car to the garage, where the No. 15 team worked on bent control arms and a tough-to-repair right-side suspension. "Man, I'm sorry guys. I couldn't save it. Good track for us," Bowyer radioed to his team as he kept coming back to pit road to try to fix a troublesome right front that was causing tire rubs. Bowyer began the day 16th out of 16 drivers in the Chase Grid, 50 points ahead of Aric Almirola . That cushion quickly evaporated and shrunk to 23 when the race concluded with Bowyer in 41st place. "We ain't quitting now. We have three races to go," Bowyer said after he was given the option to retire from the race at Lap 183 because the team had no opportunity to gain any more positions with just 17 laps to go.
Kyle Larson keeping Chase hope alive
RELATED: Chase Grid " Chase Bubble Watch Kyle Larson spent three intense days at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week logging laps, studying data and working on what could potentially be the most important homework assignment of his career. So far. Knowing that the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will be crowned at the Nov. 22 season-finale at the 1.5-mile speedway, the test session -- a two-day Goodyear tire test followed by a one-day open test -- was an essential learning tool. Thing is, Larson, last year's Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, still has to earn a spot in the 16-driver Chase field to even be among the title discussion by the time the series heads back to the South Florida track to race. And time's running out. Only two chances remain to grab one of the playoff spots -- this week at Darlingon and next week at Richmond. Because Larson is not currently ranked among the top-16 in the points standings, his only chance of earning a Chase berth is winning a race and making his first career trip to a Sprint Cup Victory Lane. It's crunch time, and Larson knows it. "We know we have to win," Larson said. "And still right now, we have to find some more speed to compete for a win. We've been close a couple times this year just based on strategies. "It could happen even with just two races left. We tested at Richmond earlier in the year and it went well. I always run just outside top-10 at Richmond and I thought I learned a lot (at the test). So we've got good stuff for Richmond, and Darlington is a track I like a lot." Having his season's fate decided in such dramatic fashion wasn't exactly what Larson or others predicted. Larson was widely considered a shoe-in for a title run -- at least a playoff berth -- after an impressive rookie season. A natural talent from the same kind of open-wheel background as three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart and four-time champ Jeff Gordon , Larson has emerged as one of the sport's new young headliners and is widely regarded as future championship material. Now the 23-year-old must seal the deal. "I'm definitely surprised it's come down to this," Larson said while waiting out a rain delay last week at Homestead. "The way both Jamie (McMurray, CGR teammate) and I ended last year, we thought we'd be a contender this year. "We've been fast but just haven't had any luck at all this year and that's been really frustrating. When we have speed in the cars we run in top-10. At Bristol, for example, we blew two front tires. Last year we'd run way worse but have better finishes." WATCH: Rough night for Larson at Bristol There's no denying it's been a no-luck, hard-knock kind of season despite the team's best efforts. While Chip Ganassi Racing 's other Chevrolet driven by McMurray is in promising position to earn a Chase position based on points , it's been a tough road for the team's second-year driver. Larson's third place at Dover in May is his best finish of the season and only top-five showing after a rookie year when he was regularly mixing it up at the front of the field, posting five top-three finishes, including three runner-ups. He's had only two top-10s in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet since Dover this spring, and his four DNFs equal the number he had all of last year. But there is encouraging news to consider, and Larson has not conceded a thing. His No. 42 Chevrolet was easily one of the best cars in the Chase last year with six top-10 finishes in the final 10 races, including a streak of five consecutive as the postseason kicked in. MORE: Larson's Darlington 'Days of Thunder' throwback scheme Should Larson earn a playoff chance, he feels the team should be strong down the stretch. "Last year I thought we were running better at this point in the season than we are now," Larson said. "But a lot of the tracks in the Chase I really enjoy running at and I think that's part of why we had success in the Chase . "I think we'll be good again this year in the Chase . It's just right now, we're not in it." He added quickly: "That could change." MORE: Who's most likely to win way into Chase ?
Chase -clinching scenarios at Watkins Glen
RELATED: Chase Grid " Updated standings Only five races remain before the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set. Here are the scenarios for clinching a Chase berth at Watkins Glen: Below is the complete list of drivers currently in the Chase Grid. Drivers who have clinched a spot in the Chase : 1. Jimmie Johnson 2. Kevin Harvick 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr . 4. Matt Kenseth 5. Kurt Busch Drivers who need one more win to secure a spot in the Chase (this group can also clinch a spot if there is a repeat winner this weekend): 6. Joey Logano 7. Martin Truex Jr . 8. Brad Keselowski 9. Denny Hamlin 10. Carl Edwards Drivers currently in the Chase based on points : 11. Jamie McMurray 12. Jeff Gordon 13. Paul Menard 14. Ryan Newman 15. Clint Bowyer 16. Kasey Kahne Information provided by NASCAR IMC.