H2H: Chase hits halfway; Talladega tempest next
RELATED: See the Chase grid " Chase Bubble Watch The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason is making the turn for home -- five races down and five to go. This weekend's stop on the 10-race ride is among the most pivotal of them all, Sunday's Alabama 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM) at Talladega Superspeedway . With the playoff field about to be cut from 12 drivers to a final eight, our Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle pressing topics ahead of a true Chase wildcard: *** Halfway through the Chase , Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr . have each won twice, leaving Jimmie Johnson as the only other race winner in the postseason's first five races. Will the champion be one of these three or is there still room for a Chase dark horse? Cain: It is highly likely that the champion will come from among these three drivers, who have not only won lately but set the bar this year. With half the Chase remaining, someone else may -- and needs to -- step up, figuring it would be Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano or one of the four remaining Toyota drivers who have led the way. No dark horse here. Albert: There's time left, but that clock -- not to be confused with the Camping World Truck Series' caution clock -- is ticking more urgently. Harvick, Truex and Johnson may be the main Chase triumvirate so far, but I'm holding the door open for a Keselowski-led Penske effort or another Joe Gibbs Racing entry to stage a Round of 12 rally, starting at Talladega. Next year, a schedule shake-up for the Chase's Round of 12 will have Kansas trading places with Talladega to be the three-race series' elimination event. Do you favor the move or was the Charlotte-Kansas-Talladega progression a suitable schedule? Cain: Depending on whom you talk to, Talladega settling the third-round Chase grid was either a huge opportunity or a crazy wild card. Everyone goes into the unpredictable Talladega race feeling like either he/she has a big opportunity or scant chance to emerge. That makes for a heightened excitement level, but the question is whether this type of race should solidify the next round of elimination. Cases can be made either way, but I think the switch-up is a good idea. Albert: Talladega races are heart-clenching enough as it is -- whether it's in the regular season in May, in the playoffs in October or a 20-lap offseason trophy dash for funsies (just a suggestion). Making the schedule shift may slightly reduce spectator palpitations, but the track loses little in stature as the middle event in a three-race series. A more conventional venue such as Kansas makes more sense as the host of an elimination race. The Chase's current bottom four: Austin Dillon , Denny Hamlin , Brad Keselowski , Chase Elliott . Of those four, who is best positioned to take out the math and guesswork and emerge with a season-saving Talladega win? Cain: I truly see any and all four of these with the possibility of point-climbing their way up to Chase advancement. Among them, it's hardest to argue with Keselowski's Talladega resume. He already has two restrictor-plate wins at Daytona in July and at Talladega in the spring. He has lots of good Alabama juju -- scoring his first-ever Cup win at Talladega in 2009 and amassing four total wins there. He's finished in the top five in three of his last trips to the track. Albert: With such a stacked quartet in the Chase basement, this is a tough one. All four drivers have the backing of teams with standout superspeedway programs, and Keselowski has evolved into one of the sport's best at the large, fast ovals where horsepower is restricted. While still imagining some No. 3 magic for Dillon or a No. 24 breakthrough for Elliott, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin gets the slight nod from these parts in a plate-track pick 'em.
H2H: Chase's Round of 12 set to stir at Charlotte
RELATED: See the Chase Grid Story lines abound, and NASCAR.com's Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup enters the Round of 12 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . 1. What surprised you most from Dover weekend in terms of who advanced in the Chase elimination race and who did not? Cain: I was surprised by the results in several areas, but more so by drivers who did not advance as expected. Like many, I believed Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson would advance well beyond the Round of 16. In fact, I had him in my Championship 4. I do believe he will win another race before the season is over. And perhaps I was being sentimental in expecting Tony Stewart to advance, but I still remember the amazing Chase charge in 2011 and saw the motivation in the three-time champion's eyes after he won at Sonoma this summer. Albert: Austin Dillon 's advancement on the basis of pure consistency didn't send shock waves through the ol' surprise meter, but fate's cruel hand for Chip Ganassi Racing did. To see both Larson and teammate Jamie McMurray ejected from the Chase field at least qualified as a mild stunner. It's a solid dozen that remain, but Dover showed again how exacting this postseason format can be. RELATED: Larson, McMurray ousted from Chase after Dover woes 2. With the points standings reset for the Chase Round of 12, all drivers resume with a clean slate. Are there any incentives you would add to enhance the current format? Cain: A case could be made to give drivers who have won in the Chase a small points bonus in the ensuing round. But the equal reset given to all 12 drivers in the current format certainly increases the drama in a very different way from the Chase start, when regular-season wins are factored in. It's the first time since the Daytona 500 green flag that the top-tier drivers are ranked evenly, and it should make the next three races even more dramatic. Albert: It may not rate highly on the drama scale, but I've always maintained that the top points-earner during the regular season should be rewarded -- nominally if not handsomely. A first-round bye might be a stretch, but a bigger bounty of points would offer a larger incentive for consistent performance over the opening 26 events. Offering bonus points through each elimination round would be an inviting enhancement, but keeping them out of the championship race -- leaving the calculators at home -- has valuable merits. RELATED: Are added incentives for regular-season winners on horizon? 3. Among the remaining 12 Chase drivers, who's your pick to win this weekend at Charlotte and lock in early in the Round of 8? Cain: There's a certain six-time champion who I believe will collect his eighth win at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend. Jimmie Johnson has been close to wins already in the Chase only to fall victim to pit-road miscues -- something uncharacteristic of his Hendrick Motorsports organization. You've got to think that will be cleaned up, and I believe there's no one more motivated to remind naysayers why he is the modern era's very best. Albert: Is there any stopping the Truexpress? Wins in two of the first three Chase races have established the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota as a strong title favorite, and the team returns to the site of Truex's crushing victory in the Coca-Cola 600 in May. Placing former Charlotte winners Kevin Harvick , Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson under the heading of "sleepers" ranks as a testament to Truex's formidable stature this season. Upcoming wild-card races at Talladega and Martinsville have the potential to derail the No. 78's march; don't count on that happening this weekend at Charlotte.
H2H: Chase tension hits a rapid clip at Martinsville
RELATED: Meet the Chase's final 8 " Martinsville entry list The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs grinds on, with four races to go and one more elimination before the Championship 4 is determined for next month's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . With Talladega Superspeedway behind us and the final three-race series staged and ready for the Sprint Cup Series' return this weekend to Martinsville Speedway , our Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics for the season's homestretch: 1. After a hectic day at Talladega, the Chase's Round of 8 is finally set. Any surprises at who's in, who's out? Cain: I think obviously not having this season's winningest drivers in the final eight is a major upset. I would have expected Martin Truex Jr . and Brad Keselowski to easily advance and frankly felt either might have visited Talladega's Victory Lane, not end their day in the track's garage. The four-car Joe Gibbs Racing sweep into the next round also defies odds, but more power to the team. They will have their hands full, however, with Chevy's Kevin Harvick and a certain six-time series champion, Jimmie Johnson . Albert: Agreed, the omissions of Truex and Keselowski counted as at least mild jolts, but at this phase of the process, there's only so much water that can go into the funnel. All of the final eight drivers have visited Victory Lane at some point this season, with all but one -- Kurt Busch -- making multiple trips. The only thing we're missing is a true underdog (see: winless Ryan Newman in 2014, a much more lightly regarded Truex in 2015), and that also qualifies as a subtle surprise. 2. NASCAR announced rules Wednesday designed to limit Sprint Cup drivers' participation in other national series starting in 2017. What's the net effect? Cain: The obvious upside to this is improved opportunity for up-and-coming drivers to truly show their wares against similar talent as they ascend the NASCAR ladder. More trophies, more winner's checks, more attention. They also will have to showcase their personalities more, however, to keep the story lines interesting in absence of the popular Cup drivers that more naturally fill newsfeeds. This is great opportunity, but it will require great work, too. Albert: Besides the increased opportunity overall, I believe the greatest impact will be felt once the playoffs roll around. With both XFINITY and the Camping World Truck Series just now dabbling in their first ventures into Chase waters, those series now have a greater chance to establish their regular drivers' stardom when it counts -- in the postseason. 3. Four races remain in the championship battle, with Martinsville Speedway next up on the schedule. Whether it's a Chaser aiming for a free pass to the Homestead finale or a non-Chaser hoping to play spoiler, who's your winning pick for the weekend? Cain: This is truly shaping up to be one of the most compelling Martinsville races in a long line of fantastic Martinsville races. Denny Hamlin is buoyed by the dramatic entry into this round of the Chase and has an enviable and proven track record here. But my pick is Jimmie Johnson , who will remind everyone of his massive talent and determination in pursuit of a record-tying seventh Cup in 2016. Albert: Record-tying seventh championship? Sounds like a storybook tale. But how about the chances of a Jeff Gordon sunset-riding repeat of his Martinsville victory in 2015? How about Denny Hamlin finally getting another shot at making good on his childhood promise to Coach Joe Gibbs that he'd drive to a title for him someday? The heart's pick at Martinsville goes with Gordon; the brain's vote takes Hamlin on the tricky sliver of a race track that still packs 'em in.
My Chase : Off Week 1
Get an inside look at the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase with the newest video in the XFINITY My Chase video series, which follows drivers on their off week.
Chase by the Numbers: Martinsville
As drivers head into the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, here are some statistics to keep in mind at NASCAR's shortest track.
Staff picks for Talladega Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : The Daytona 500 winner has experience in getting to Victory Lane at restrictor-plate tracks. If his tendency for sour luck in the Chase -- see last year's odd roof flap issue in this race -- doesn't bite him, Hamlin has a strong shot at advancing with a Talladega win. -- Zack Albert Brad Keselowski : He was backed against a wall in 2014 and came through with a dramatic win to advance in the Chase , and he'll do it again on the heels of winning at Talladega this spring. -- George Winkler Brad Keselowski : Seems like an obvious pick because of Keselowski's two restrictor-plate wins this season coming into Talladega. But the former Cup champ is so good at this form of racing, particularly at Talladega where he got his first career Cup win and three more including this spring. And most importantly ... he needs a good showing to advance in the Chase . This is his race. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : The man who doesn't need the win -- thanks to his Charlotte victory -- gets the W to lock some strong competition out of the Round of 8. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : The talented Team Penske driver hasn't had exceptional results this season, but he's been lurking. We saw what he can do in this round last year, and I think he turns it on when it counts and takes Talladega for the second year in a row. -- Pat DeCola Matt Kenseth : One year after a Round of 12 he'd rather forget, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran leaves no doubt and secures his second career win at Talladega. -- Brad Norman Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Trouble knocks Nemechek, Hemric from Chase hunt
RELATED: Chase Grid " Race results TALLADEGA, Ala. -- It was high drama for both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers contending for a spot to advance in the series' Chase on Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway . For John Hunter Nemechek , it was an abbreviated fate; for Daniel Hemric , the action went right to the wire. Neither was able to race into the six-driver next phase of the title Chase , however, which will include William Byron, Christopher Bell , Timothy Peters , Matt Crafton , Ben Kennedy and Johnny Sauter . The motor on Nemechek's No. 8 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet blew only 13 laps into Saturday's 94-lap elimination race. And he was scored in last place in the 32-truck field. Hemric, 25, was caught up in three incidents -- two of them multi-truck crashes including "The Big One" with 36 laps remaining that essentially sealed his fate, leaving his No. 19 DrawTite Ford with heavy damage to the rear and left side. But still drivable. He spun out again with 12 laps remaining and pitted for repairs. And despite all the drama, he still finished 11th and on the lead lap. "Today was another statement of what we've done all year, battle to the end," Hemric said, adding, "It was a matter of keep fighting, because you never know. We were trying to put ourselves in the best situation. I promise we made the most out of what was presented to us." In fact, with six laps remaining, Hemric's closest competitor in the Chase , Matt Crafton , went behind the wall, his truck smoking when the crew lifted the hood. But even by that point, pulling out a victory remained Hemric's best option to move on. "Honestly, we were hoping to be in a points battle moving forward, but with knowing that situation was you still need to win races," Hemric said. "… We're going to go down swinging. I hate coming up short, but now we have nothing to lose to make that situation a reality." The first multi-truck crash happened with 51 laps remaining. Hemric's teammate Tyler Reddick drove into the rear of his Ford while they both were trying to avoid an accident in front of them. Hemric had to make an extended pit stop for repairs, going a lap down at the time but got back on the lead lap a handful of laps later as a result of another accident. "A busy day to say the least. We didn't qualify where we wanted to but I was around our teammates. I thought we would be OK. We knew coming here the variables of superspeedway racing. … I hate we got caught up in what we did but we did everything we could. "The effort from this team was second to none. We were just a part of a lot of very unfortunate situations there that we couldn't avoid, couldn't miss. One, you can rebound from, two, you can probably rebound from, but the third one definitely put us in a bad situation. Hate we couldn't win a race earlier and get locked in." The disappointment was also palpable for the 19-year-old second-generation driver Nemechek, whose family-owned team had positioned him for his first try at the series title. Nemechek qualified for the series' first version of the Chase thanks to wins at Atlanta and again in a controversial close finish on the Bowmanville, Canada, road course. But he hardly even got a shot to race into the next round after his motor let go on the Talladega high banks minutes into the race. "All my temps were fine, I haven't seen a big blow-up like that in a while," said Nemechek. "We didn't even really have a shot to race our way in. But that's kind of how our last three weeks have been. I haven't seen a motor blow up like that in a while. Bad stuff can happen at Talladega and unfortunately we got the bad side. "We'll go back and regroup. I'm very proud of all our guys and now our focus will be on just getting some wins." Nemechek has a pair of runner-up finishes (2015 and 2016) at next week's short-track stop, Martinsville Speedway .
Keselowski runs into engine issues late in Talladega Chase race
RELATED: Race results " Updated Chase Grid Brad Keselowski 's No. 2 Team Penske Ford succumbed to an engine failure on Lap 144 of 188 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway . The unfortunate circumstance ends the title hopes of the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion, who all but needed a win coming into the race to avoid being eliminated. Keselowski finished the race 38th. "We came here to win and we were doing what we needed to do to win, and it just didn't play out," Keselowski told NBCSN. "It just wasn't meant to be. … "We had an incredible car today and I'm really proud of that. Just got to keep pushing and hopefully we can go win these next four (races). I want to finish the season with the most wins and we've got a great shot at that, leading it right now. Cars that ran like this one did today, it'll all work out." Keselowski had led nine times for a race-best 90 laps before the incident. A similar fate befell fellow Chase driver Martin Truex Jr ., whose No. 78 Chevrolet suffered an engine failure earlier in the race. Truex Jr. finished last in the 40-car field and was eliminated from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Chase cutoff in Talladega means drivers swinging for the fences
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Put into a position with nothing to lose and everything to gain, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek have a simple plan for this weekend. Swing for the fences, they both said. Saturday's fred's 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway is the final race of the opening round of the inaugural Camping World Truck Series Chase . Only one Chase participant, William Byron, scored a win in the previous two races, thus earning an automatic berth in the Round of 6 that begins next weekend at Martinsville Speedway . Hemric, driver of the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing, is seventh in points, 15 points outside Johnny Sauter in sixth. Nemechek, driver of the No. 8 Nemco Motorsports Chevrolet, is eighth, tied with Hemric for points and also 15 points outside the cutoff. "Everything here is kind of out of your hands," Nemechek, twice a winner this season, said Friday. "Being at Talladega in the spot that we're in … being 15 points out, I think it's way better for me to be able to come here … where anything can happen. "If we finish top five and someone else got caught up in somebody else's wreck and we didn't, we'd have a shot to make it compared to a mile-and-a-half track or short track where they can ride around all day and kind of salvage a finish where they make sure they make it. "I haven't quite called in any favors or anything like that. If we were able to qualify up front and run up front all day, as long as we put ourselves in a position to be top four in, where you can make a move coming to the start/finish line, I think you'll be all right. But who knows?" Christopher Bell , two-time series champion Matt Crafton , Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters are second through fifth in points. All have won at least once this year, except for Peters. But he's won here at Talladega the last two times the series visited the 2.66-mile track. "In order to win now, we've just got to keep doing what we're doing and not change anything at this point," Hemric said. "All we can do here is control what we can control, go into it approaching every situation that way, whether it's practice, qualifying or the race. If we execute on all ends, I see no reason why we shouldn't have a shot at it. "At the end of the day … I think I would rather be on the end we're on. Obviously if you've won, that's even better. But the situation where we can go down swinging and not playing defense all day, I think, is going to be a good thing for (Nemechek) and I, both."
Blown engine ends Truex Jr.'s Chase hopes prematurely
RELATED: Race results " Chase Grid TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Martin Truex Jr .'s Sprint Cup Series championship hopes ended abruptly only 41 laps into Sunday's Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . His pole-winning No. 78 Bass Pro Shops Toyota suddenly lost power while running on the high banks, leaving the title hopeful to slowly create a smoke trail through the track garage, where his Furniture Row Racing team awaited to start analyzing the problem. It was the team's first engine failure in two years. As the team surveyed the car, one crew member picked up Truex's helmet and slowly walked it back to the team trailer, essentially spelling the end of his day and his 2016 title hopes. "It's definitely disappointing; what else can you say?" Truex said. "We had a team capable of competing for the championship. And unfortunately we aren't going to be able to show that. I guess there's still a chance of a miracle, but I don't see it happening. We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out today." RELATED: No. 78 team works on car, more Talladega photos Truex, who is in the midst of a career-best, four-win season -- including two victories in the opening round of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- will instead now be watching others vie for the title many figured Truex might well hoist. As his Denver-based team hurried around the Talladega garage area examining his car, he looked over his shoulder, obviously feeling badly for them as well. "I'm sure they're devastated," Truex said. "They've worked so hard this year to put us in a position to challenge for a championship. You know, we felt like we could do it. But this sport is tough. "We didn't perform at Kansas and Charlotte the way we are capable of and had some issues that bit us and put us in the hole. We could have gone there and done better and gotten a win and we wouldn't be talking about this right now. "At the end of the day, we didn't get the job done. But we've got a great team. We've got four more races to try and win and I know we could win all four of them." RELATED: How Furniture Row was built in Colorado For all the disappointment Truex felt and displayed, he still spoke to reporters, demonstrating great perspective and promising a solid end to the year. Just not the end he and his team had hoped. "It's part of life, it's part of racing," Truex said. "You take it one week at a time. Enjoy the good days and try to get past the bad ones, that's what you do no matter where you're at. "Just, damn. It just hurts to go out like that. We could have raced all day and gotten in a big wreck and still not made it, so there's no telling. But it sure would have been nice to have at least found out, played the whole game so to speak and see what happened instead of barely making it to the first pit stop. That stings. But all in all, we can't hang our heads. We've got a lot to be proud of," said Truex. "This will make us stronger.''