Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup explained
As the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup turns 10, get the history, format and more
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.
Christopher Bell claims 2017 Chili Bowl victory
Photo: Toyota Racing Christopher Bell rang in the start of his 2017 season with perhaps the biggest win of his burgeoning racing career -- the 31st annual Chili Bowl. Bell, a full-time driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series , won what many consider to be the world's most prestigious sprint car race after midnight ET on Sunday morning. Over the course of a week, he outlasted 364 other drivers who entered -- a Chili Bowl record -- and ended Rico Abreu's two-year reign as champion. Bell is regarded as one of the finer dirt racers in the country, and he was equally adept on pavement as well. The 22-year-old advanced to the Championship Round in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase as a full-time rookie in 2016. In 2015, he won at Eldora Speedway in his third career series start. Making the victory even sweeter is that Bell is an Oklahoma native -- he was born in Norman, about 125 miles southwest of the event site in Tulsa. "Oh my God, I just won the Chili Bowl," Bell said after climbing out of his machine. "This was a long time coming and a dream come true." C Bell up on the wheel tonight! #cbnationals @CBellRacing — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) January 15, 2017 Nice job C Bell! — William Byron (@WilliamByron) January 15, 2017 Daryn Pittman, a fellow Oklahoma native, finished second to Bell with Justin Grant, Tanner Thompson and Jake Swanson rounding out the top five. In all, four drivers with recent NASCAR experience qualified for the championship race. Abreu finished 11th after starting 25th in the 25-driver championship field, needing a champion's provisional to make the final field. Roush Fenway Racing 's Ricky Stenhouse Jr . finished 16th and Chase Briscoe, the newest full-time driver for Brad Keselowski Racing, was 22nd in the A-Main. The Chili Bowl is a week-long event with five days of practice and qualifying events to set the 25-car field for the main event. Saturday started with two O-Feature races -- the top four finishers from each O-Feature event advanced to the corresponding N-Feature races. Then the top four finishers from each N-Feature race advance into the M-Feature races. The format was used all the way up to the A-Main finale, although drivers also could qualify for the A-Main throughout the week. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson , who has stayed behind the wheel all offseason, including a racing trip to Australia -- failed to advance to the championship race after making the A-Main for five consecutive years. Abreu did not make it out of the F-Feature due to a tire issue, but he received a past champion's provisional. Stenhouse, another Chili Bowl veteran, won his B-Feature to advance into the championship race. Justin Allgaier , who will drive in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for JR Motorsports in 2017, was ousted after the C-Feature. His most eventful moment of the week, though, came Friday when his car flipped on the last lap of his race.
JR Motorsports ramps up with 2017 expansion
RELATED: Driver Tracker " On the move: Changes in store for 2017 The encore for an organization that placed both of its full-time drivers into the Championship 4 field in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase last year has the chance to be even greater. JR Motorsports has that unique possibility, an opportunity granted by not sitting still. Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier return to the fold after prosperous debut years with the team, but that's where the offseason status quo ends. JRM plans a full-court press for the upcoming XFINITY season, expanding from two to four full-time drivers in an all-out push to bring home the championship it barely missed out on in 2017. "To have that opportunity to go up against three teammates, to see the growth in our shop, to see the growth in our teams, it's really, really fun to watch," Allgaier said. "I feel like if you came back here next year and said we'd have four cars from JR Motorsports in the final four, it wouldn't surprise me at all." A four-car sweep for the Homestead-Miami finale in November would mean stellar introductions by the two newest faces in the JRM stable: up-and-coming teenager William Byron, a NASCAR Next alum, and 30-year-old vet Michael Annett , back in XFINITY after a three-year stint in NASCAR's top division. The addition of Byron, a 19-year-old prospect in the Hendrick Motorsports system, actually counts as a reunion. The Liberty University student was a former driver for JRM's Late Model program on the weekly and touring level. His teammates have already seen what he can do in top-level equipment. Byron won seven times in his rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, with only a crucial engine failure in 2016's penultimate race keeping him from the championship fight. It's the reason Sadler has touted him as "a star of the future" and why Allgaier echoed the thought, calling Byron "an absolute class act and an amazing talent." Kelley Earnhardt Miller -- who co-owns JRM with her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- spoke with tones of regret in describing how Byron got away in late 2015, snapped up by Kyle Busch Motorsports and seemingly earmarked for an upward career arc in the Toyota pipeline. That changed last August when team owner Rick Hendrick brought him back into the Chevrolet camp, cognizant of the creeping advancement in age of his Monster Energy Cup Series roster. "For that to all come back full circle, we're real excited about it," Earnhardt Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last month. "He's just a great kid and a good family, and his story is just so cool -- doing the computer racing [on iRacing] and then telling his dad he wants to race and then not racing until he was 15. It's just a good story. But Mr. Hendrick deserves the credit there, trying to look at his next moves because he's going to have some drivers that are on the retirement horizon in the next several years, so smart move for him to make all that happen." Said Byron: "I just remember their ultimate goal for me when I started racing Late Models was so I could race an XFINITY car there. In a weird way, I got back to that and it's going to be really cool to return next year." To accommodate the escalated XFINITY Series growth, which Earnhardt Miller said has maxed out the team's resources, JR Motorsports has closed its truck series operation. Cole Custer , who drove the JRM No. 00 truck the last two seasons, has since moved on to Stewart-Haas Racing 's XFINITY program. As in past years, JR Motorsports plans to run an extra XFINITY entry in select races with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne behind the wheel for two races each. But at the heart of its growth are the core four XFINITY regulars, a direction chosen in light of new driver participation guidelines that go into effect in 2017. The continuity will keep JRM from scrambling to shuffle its roster once the Chase playoff begins and the limits on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers moonlighting in the XFINITY ranks become more stringent. But the organization will still need to make inroads against stout competition, especially Joe Gibbs Racing , which won 19 of the 33 XFINITY races last season and took the other two spots in the four-driver championship round. Reminded of the heady assignment a day after last season's finale, Allgaier was unwavering. "Even with the Gibbs guys," Allgaier said. "I don't know, I just feel like with the packages that we've seen of what's a possibility for the XFINITY Series next year, the work that we're doing at the shop and the cars and just all the things that we've been working on, I really think next year's an opportunity for us at JR Motorsports."
2016 Season in Review: Chase Drivers and Champions
Let's look back at the key moments for the 16 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers from 2016, plus XFINITY champion Daniel Suarez and Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter . Come back for updates.
Take a tour of Wood Brothers Racing's new shop
Ever wanted to take a tour around one of the race shops of one of NASCAR's most storied teams? Well, now you can -- thanks to Wood Brothers Racing , formed in 1950. While the team is old, the shop is new. The organization recently moved headquarters to Mooresville, North Carolina to be closer to their Ford-affiliated counterpart, Team Penske . Now separated by just seven miles, expect the technical alliance between the pair to grow considerably in 2017 as the Wood Bros. attempt to put a driver in the Chase for the first time in its history with talented Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sophomore Ryan Blaney . Watch the video below to see the Wood Brothers' new digs.
Determination, focus drive Martin to Hall of Fame
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 " Martin's top moments Mark Martin is respected and revered for a 31-year NASCAR racing career that includes 40 Cup victories, 49 XFINITY wins and five heralded IROC championships. He is considered one of the most talented, highly focused and broadly successful competitors in NASCAR history. And later this week, Martin will formally acquire a designation that makes him most proud of all: NASCAR Hall of Famer. "When I'm introduced at a function, now people can call me something, I'll have a title," Martin, 58, said this week with a laugh. "Prior to that, you kind of had to search for a title, although I had done a lot of cool and amazing things in my career." His long list of "cool and amazing things" is what earned Martin this highest of honors. He joins Benny Parsons, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks in this year’s Hall of Fame class and will be formally inducted Friday in Charlotte (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). RELATED: Parks set early standard " Prolonged excellence Childress' hallmark For Martin, it is a story of supreme determination and talent. In addition to his 40 wins and five championship runner-up finishes in NASCAR's highest level, Martin proved to be one of the series’ most diverse competitors -- ever. He won four GT class championships competing in the Rolex 24 during the 1990s. And his five IROC titles -- and four more runner-up IROC championship finishes -- showed Martin’s great ability bettering the best drivers across all forms of racing from NASCAR to IndyCar to sports cars to sprint cars. It is certainly something that separates and elevates him to the highest of standards through four decades of the best competition in multiple genres. So understandably, Martin had to really think about what in his vast career makes him most proud. "I don't know if there's a single thing," Martin said. "One thing, I would have to say the fact that I made it to NASCAR at such a young age (22). At the time it was an amazingly young age, then I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career again. "So I would say perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word. Having to start my career all over again and building my way back. Having a second chance is probably the biggest thing." "And the second thing is what I did in the IROC Series." Martin has acknowledged that he was as focused and intense as they came. He was the first driver to seriously incorporate fitness training into his race preparation -- something that may have eased his ability to compete at such a high level even into his 50s. That determination to find an edge was apparent in the garage, even from an early age. He was among the rare drivers to frequently be seen looking into the hood of his car and working alongside the crew. It was the way he was raised by his father Julian, who took great care in guiding his son's passion. There are photos of Martin’s earliest racing days clearly showing how Julian Martin had gone so far to alter his son's first race cars out of love and safety -- mounting the steering wheel in the middle of the car instead of having it on the far left. Dad and son travelled from their native Arkansas throughout the Midwest following the racing dream and they were very close -- now the hard work rewarded with Martin’s long list of achievements and this highest of NASCAR's high honors. Heartbreakingly, Julian was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Nevada mountains in August of 1998, also taking the life of Martin’s stepmother and 11-year old stepsister. Martin remembers immersing himself in competition as best he could to deal with the tragedy. Martin won the night race at Bristol two weeks after losing his father. Immediately after climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, he emotionally thanked the race fans for "their sympathy, love and support" saying their "love for our family has meant everything." "I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to go racing and that's what my dad would have wanted," Martin acknowledged last week. "It was tough, but it would have been tough sitting on a couch in a daze, too. "To me, racing was sort of a responsibility that I had. I felt responsibility toward the 50 or 100 people that supported the (then-Roush Racing) 6-car and a responsibility to race. I just didn't feel like missing a race because I was grieving. … To me, at the time, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. "It did help me cope with the horrendous loss I was experiencing because I did have to pick up and go racing." And for Martin, the success he would later experience in the second half of his career is as impressive and inspiring as anything he accomplished. He came as close as he ever had to winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, losing the race to Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.02-seconds -- a hood-length -- in a photo finish that marked Martin’s best ever showing in the Great American Race. RELATED: Closest finishes in the history of the Great American Race Two years later, at the age of 50, Martin challenged Jimmie Johnson for what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, winning five races and claiming seven pole positions. Martin led the standings after each of the opening three Chase races, only to finish runner-up to Johnson, a seven-time winner on the year. It marked the fifth and final time Martin was a championship runner-up in an amazing 20-year span of his career. It is a remarkable accomplishment and something he says he is at last comfortable enjoying, free of any near-miss regret. "I never scored enough points to win one, and that's that," Martin said, when asked about it last week. "I would have won one if I had scored more points than anyone else. … and I let that take an enormous amount of joy (from me). "It's something I let go of and I refuse to allow that to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful of, be grateful for. I accomplished a lot in my career and I’m not sour about the things I didn't accomplish." The attitude accompanies good reason -- because by all standards Martin accomplished so much and is admired by so many. Later this week, he will be fittingly celebrated in all the glory he deserves for a career that showed everyone what hard work and mental focus could produce. Forever more, Mark Martin shall be known and introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "It means more than anything I achieved while I was racing because I was so busy racing, anything I achieved I never paid attention to," Martin said. "I was just storming ahead worried about how I would win the next race. "Now that I've had some time to soak it in, it's the last big deal, the big win, the crown jewel of my career. "Don't forget the people in the Hall of Fame are my heroes, the founders of the sport, the real men that did it with their bare hands. I'm a little bit uncomfortable going in there with them, to be honest with you, because I don't feel like I belong in that kind of company." Perhaps once he stands on stage -- properly celebrated and duly honored -- Martin will accept that he is absolutely a part of that good company. The best. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Hemric looks to overcome early Chase setback
RELATED: Truck Chase Grid Daniel Hemric clinched his spot in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase playoffs with remarkable consistency and a sizable nest egg of points. Now facing a significant deficit after a perilous postseason opener, stockpiling points may not be enough to keep his championship hopes intact. Hemric enters Saturday night's DC Solar 350 (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a much firmer focus on scoring his first victory of the season. "At the end of the day, this deal rewards winning," Hemric said last weekend after finishing a season-worst 28th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . "Yeah, we did it the other way to get here, but I don't know if with the day we had here, we'll be able to salvage it on just points. We've got to go win." The 25-year-old driver for Brad Keselowski Racing spun early in last Saturday's Chase opener, saying he believed he ran over a piece of debris that punctured his left-rear tire. The spent rubber became entangled in the brake assembly, triggering a small flash fire on pit road and eventually forcing his No. 19 Ford behind the wall for extended repairs. The deficit Hemric faces is even more daunting based on the fact that his fellow Chase competitors enjoyed relatively trouble-free days at New Hampshire. Aside from Hemric, the remaining seven Chasers all finished in the top 11. Two races -- this weekend at Vegas and Oct. 22 at Talladega Superspeedway -- remain before two of the eight drivers are eliminated from the playoff picture. Just 27 points separate New Hampshire winner and points leader William Byron and seventh-place Ben Kennedy , but Hemric sits another 20 points behind Kennedy and 21 points behind sixth-place Johnny Sauter . Hemric's regular-season run of reliability -- with top-fives in half of the 16 races -- had earned him a share of the top spot with Byron in the series standings before the points were reset for the postseason. The task of escaping the Chase's bottom two on the basis of points isn't mathematically impossible, but Hemric would rather convert an automatic transfer with a win. "I believe we can," said Hemric, who has come close with seven finishes in the top three this season. "Especially our mile and a half program's been really solid and we've shown that time and time again. That's it. We know what we have to do." While Hemric knows he has two opportunities to regain lost ground, there may extra urgency to find momentum at Las Vegas this weekend rather than roll the dice in the opening round's elimination race at Talladega, where large crashes and wild-card winners are much more probable. "That's the thought," Hemric said. "Nobody wants to go to Talladega knowing they've got to win when everybody has that mentality. The past has shown what happens. Now with the new format, we feel a lot more confident we can just go do our jobs at Vegas and not have to worry about it."
Looking for a Loudon Leap: Tony Stewart Chase watch
Tony Stewart gained ground at Kentucky Speedway, helping him stay within the top 30 in the points. Several races, and potential winners, remain before the Richmond cutoff, so is Tony Stewart safe with only his win at Sonoma?
Chase Elliott tops final New Hampshire practice
RELATED: Final practice results " Practice 2 results Rookie Chase Elliott zipped to the top spot in final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Elliott guided the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet to a best lap of 131.347 mph in the 55-minute final prep session for Sunday's New Hampshire 301 (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 20-year-old driver will be making his first Sprint Cup start Sunday on the 1.058-mile track. Denny Hamlin , a two-time New Hampshire winner, turned the second-fastest lap at 131.302 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. He was just ahead of JGR teammate Matt Kenseth , another two-time winner in the Granite State who clocked the third-best lap at 131.044 mph in the No. 20 Toyota. Kevin Harvick , the top points-earner in the Sprint Cup Series this season, was fourth-fastest in final practice at 130.941 mph in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevy. Defending race winner Kyle Busch landed the fifth-fastest lap in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota at 130.891 mph. Jimmie Johnson , who will start first in Sunday's 301-lapper after securing the Coors Light Pole Award in Friday qualifying, was seventh-fastest in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet. Alex Bowman , the replacement driver this weekend for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms, registered the 22nd-fastest lap in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet. Sunday's event, the first of two New Hampshire stops for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, is the 19th of 36 points-paying races this year. Edwards edges ahead in second practice " Results It was a Joe Gibbs Racing parade at the top of the board with the race team taking the top three spots in the first of two Saturday practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards (No. 19 Toyota) paced the 55-minute session with a fast lap of 131.456 mph, with his JGR teammates Denny Hamlin (131.284 mph, No. 11 Toyota) and Matt Kenseth (131.193 mph, No. 20 Toyota) taking second and third in the session, respectively. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet) and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) completed the top five with fast laps of 130.914 mph and 130.855 mph, respectively. Defending race winner Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota) made it four-for-four for JGR cars in the top 10 as he posted the seventh-fastest lap. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) came in 14th in the session a day after scoring his first Coors Light Pole Award of 2016. Alex Bowman , who is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend, placed 24th. Earnhardt is out for Sunday's New Hampshire 301 (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with concussion-like symptoms.