Hemric tops Truck Series practice at Homestead-Miami
RELATED: Practice results Daniel Hemric (No. 14 NTS Motorsports Chevrolet) topped the lone NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice session at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The rookie paced the 145-minute session with a fast lap of 168.908 mph. Tyler Reddick (No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford ) came in second with a speed of 168.824 mph. Reddick enters the final race of the season 19 points back of Erik Jones (No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota) for the championship lead. Jones placed fifth in the session (167.447 mph). Spencer Gallagher (No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet) was third (168.418 mph) and Crafton (167.452 mph) came in fourth. Jones had the fastest 10-lap average speed among seven drivers at 161.716 mph from Laps 11-20; Crafton was second at 160.629 mph, followed by Christopher Bell (159.862 mph), Hemric (159.644 mph) and Daniel Suarez (158.886 mph). Jones will lock up the title with a finish of 15th or better in Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM); 16th with at least one lap led; or 17th with the most laps led. Jones or Reddick would become the youngest driver to win the Camping World Truck Series championship, while also dethroning two-time defending champion Matt Crafton (No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota) in the process. Austin Theriault (No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford ), who is set to make his first start since a major crash last month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway , finished the session 11th. Earlier in the week, Theriault was medically cleared to return to racing after suffering a 10 percent compression fracture of the lower back on Oct. 3 during the Rhino Linings 350 . Keystone Light Pole Qualifying is set for 4:10 p.m. ET (FS1).
Crafton, Reddick hold heads high as season ends
RELATED: Race results " Series standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Neither the reigning two-time champion nor the plucky driver in his first full season took a spot on the big stage Friday night. But for Matt Crafton and Tyler Reddick , there was plenty of solace to go around. Crafton and Reddick made the most of banner seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series despite coming up short to newly crowned champion Erik Jones in Friday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Crafton netted the biggest consolation prize of all, a resounding victory in the Ford EcoBoost 200 . Reddick, though stinging from a runner-up finish in the standings, found silver linings in the impact of a successful two-win season. For Crafton and his ThorSport Racing No. 88 Toyota team, the championship torch was passed to a rookie driver 20 years his junior. But the Truck Series veteran savored his most prolific season in the win column with six victories, capped by Friday night's romp at the 1.5-mile Homestead track, where he led 93 of 134 laps from the Keystone Light Pole position. Crafton wound up third in the final series standings, 22 points behind Jones, but relished a year flush with dominance and laps led, doubling the amount of victories in both championship seasons combined. "This year, I said these guys are unbelievable what they build these trucks up there in Sandusky, Ohio and what (team owners) Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) give us to be able to go out and win six races," said Crafton, who led the standings from late March through late July. "I say it each and every race, I don't worry about the points, and I haven't worried about the points. The last five races, six races, I knew I was going to have to be that much more aggressive, and I was." Reddick kicked off his first full season in the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 19 Ford with a victory in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway . He added a win three months later at Dover, but lamented a handful of subpar finishes (19th at Mosport, 15th at New Hampshire) in the season's second half that left him at a deficit in the series' pecking order. Reddick still ended up second in the standings, 15 points off the top and exceedingly close to the lofty goals he set for himself back in the winter. "Going into this year, our standards were set very high," Reddick said. "We wanted to win the championship and obviously a lot of people -- I feel like a lot of people didn't think we were capable of that. We didn't end up being capable of it. As you see, we were runner-up. We were always very strong throughout the season. We were always right there. Unfortunately we were just a little too short there coming into Homestead to really mix it up in the last race."
Crafton claims first win at Homestead-Miami
RELATED: Race results " Series standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- As strong as he was in winning Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 , Matt Crafton was already looking ahead to 2016. Crafton, whose hopes for a third consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship were dashed by a crash at Phoenix last week, won his sixth race of the season, holding off John Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick in the season finale. Although Crafton's No. 88 Toyota Tundra finished 2.9 seconds ahead of Nemechek and more than six seconds ahead of Reddick, the 39-year-old veteran still wound up third in the point standings, 15 behind 19-year-old Erik Jones . "I was having so much fun there at the end of this race," said Crafton after his first career victory at HMS. "Six wins with as many laps as we’ve led -- it's been awesome this season. We just made too many mistakes. I made too many mistakes. … I promise one thing: It's going to make us stronger in 2016." Crafton said he was happy to be able to "take the gloves off" and go all out for a win at HMS. "That was lot of fun," he said. "It's amazing what Junior (crew chief Joiner) can do with these trucks. On that last run, we hit a home run there." Ultimately, Kyle Busch 's eye for youthful talent paid off as Jones did what he needed to in becoming the youngest driver ever to claim a NCWTS title (19 years, 5 months, 21 days) and first NASCAR Next alum. He also became the first to win a driver's title for Kyle Busch Motorsports. "He put it to me when he beat me in a Super Late Model race," recalled Busch, who will race for the Sprint Cup title on Sunday. "I tend to pick up on the talent of younger kids. Actually, the first time he raced against me, he blew my doors off, then blew up 40 laps later. I said, 'Good. I don’t have to race (against) this one.' " There was no blowing up Friday night. Jones entered the race 19 points ahead of Reddick, his nearest competitor, and 32 points ahead of Crafton, the Keystone Light Pole-sitter. Making his first HMS start, Jones needed only to avoid trouble and finish 15th or higher to claim the series crown. Jones, who notched three wins this season and has seven career NCWTS victories, finished sixth in the race behind Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters . He qualified fifth and was content to race safely and efficiently, remaining in the top 10 for most of the race and avoiding any calamity on the track. "I can't think of a better way to repay these guys. I can't think of a better ending than that," said Jones, who expects to drive full-time in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing next year after parts of three seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports. "Eric's done a lot of growing up in a short period of time," Busch said. "I'm glad he stuck with me and our plan. I think he has a lot of bigger and greater things ahead on his plate." NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next alum Daniel Suarez appeared to have the strongest truck early in Friday's race, charging from sixth to the lead. But Suarez slid up the track into the truck of Dexter Stacey on Lap 61, falling back to 15th, then found the wall again on Lap 83. That left Crafton in position to dominate the race. He led 93 of the 134 laps, leaving NASCAR Next driver Nemechek (Chevrolet) and Reddick ( Ford ) in his wake to battle for second. Reddick, driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, started fourth and advanced to second behind Crafton with 40 laps to go. But by then, Jones, who briefly slid back to 14th after a caution flag shuffle, had rallied to seventh, keeping Reddick, also a 19-year-old driver, at bay in the chase for the title. "We were very consistent this year. I'm proud about that," Reddick said. "We just have to move on to next year. I know what second place feels like and I really don't like it too much. If I didn't have enough reasons to win a championship, I've got one more."
Erik Jones wins Camping World Truck Series title
RELATED: Complete Miami race results " Series standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- With the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title now in Erik Jones ' rear-view mirror, the immediate question becomes "What's next for the 19-year-old prodigy?" With a relatively nondescript, problem-free sixth-place finish in Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Jones secured the series driver's championship, as well as the owner's title for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Discovered by Busch when he beat his future car owner as a 16-year-old in the Snowball Derby for Super Late Models, Jones delivered the championship after running two part-time seasons for KBM. "I can't think of a better way to repay these guys," Jones said in Victory Lane, after securing the title by 15 points over runner-up Tyler Reddick . "I can't think of a better way to thank Kyle for all these years (than by) getting the driver’s championship for him. He's wanted one since the company started, and to bring it home for myself and for KBM, you couldn't really ask for a better ending than that." The youngest champion in series history at 19 years, 5 months, 21 days, Jones has been earmarked for a meteoric ascent to the top level of NASCAR racing. "It means so much more to have the opportunity to help these younger drivers and to help these kids that are coming up through the ranks to be successful," Busch said. "And to do that with Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota, there's nothing greater than to have that feeling and to build that company from the ground up, from nothing, and take it to where it is today." But first things first. Team owner Joe Gibbs reiterated on Friday the plan to run Jones in a full season of NASCAR XFINITY Series racing next year, with a few selected Sprint Cup events added to the mix. Jones has already gotten his baptism in Sprint Cup . Earlier this season, he subbed for Kyle Busch at Kansas, the last of 11 races Busch missed after breaking his right leg and left foot in the season-opening XFINITY Series event at Daytona. Jones filled a relief role for Denny Hamlin at Bristol in April, after Hamlin's neck locked up during a rain delay. And when Matt Kenseth earned a two-race suspension for wrecking Joey Logano on Nov. 1 at Martinsville, Jones was tabbed to replace him. His first laps in a Sprint Cup car were hardly tentative. Behind the wheel of Busch's No. 18 Toyota, he ran consistently in the top 10 before crashing on lap 196 of 267 at Kansas. Subbing for Kenseth at Texas and Phoenix, Jones qualified sixth and seventh, respectively, and finished 12th and 19th against the top stock car drivers in the world. Despite the speed he has shown in the Sprint Cup series, Jones is content to let his career take its course. "Absolutely, I think the XFINITY Series is completely necessary," Jones said. "I have no problem running a year there … as long as need be there. I don't know what the exact career path is for me down the road. "At some point, yeah, I want to race in the Cup series every weekend. I feel like there's a plan in place for that opportunity to arise. And I'll just keep taking what's given to me every week and go out and try to win races."
Matt Crafton wins second straight Truck Series title
Becomes first driver to win back-to-back titles in Camping World Truck Series RELATED: Wallace Jr. wins Ford EcoBoost 200 HOMESTEAD, Fla. – After becoming the first driver to ever win consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series titles, Matt Crafton could talk about making history. "Definitely an awesome feeling," Crafton said, after joining Ron Hornaday Jr ., Todd Bodine and Jack Sprague as the only drivers to win the NCWTS crown more than once. "To be on the list with those guys is unreal. To say that I've done it back-to-back and no one has done that, it's such a good, good feeling." But Crafton, sitting between crew chief (Carl) Junior Joiner and ThorSport Racing General Manager David Pepper, wasn't about to take all the credit. "To say I made history is definitely very, very cool. But it's all about the guys that are behind me. Without them, I'm just an average race car driver at best." Completing his 14th full season, Crafton, 38, has run his entire NCWTS career for Sandusky, Ohio-based ThorSport and owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. "The very first time I sat down with Duke at the end of 2000 he told me going to run this like a business," Crafton recalled. "He said: 'We're going to make it better and better each year but I'm not going to outspend myself or go away in two or three years. I'm going to be an owner who will be around for the long haul. If you want to stick it out with me, we'll win races and win championships.' " Stick it out, Crafton did. He didn't win a race until 2008, finished no higher than fifth in the point standings until 2009 and didn't win two races in a season until this year when he triumphed at Martinsville and Texas. "That's what makes it so much sweeter to be where we are today," Crafton said. "We didn't have all the resources and all the tools that we have today. I'd say (Duke) has been a man of his word – as has Rhonda – since the day I met him." Crafton said that after winning his first title a year ago, he promised Joiner the team would lead more laps and win more races in 2014. "We led more laps and won two races," he said. "We had the capability to win more if we didn't have bad luck in the middle part of the season. It's a damn shame, because I feel we should have won at least five races, without a doubt." But Crafton is hardly complaining. "I think I'm the luckiest man on earth," he said. "I'm getting paid to do what I love. I'm getting paid to drive a race car." Crafton entered Friday's Ford EcoBoost 200 with a relatively comfortable 25-point lead on Ryan Blaney . He knew that a finish of 21st or better in the 36-truck field would get the job done. He finished ninth, good enough to finish 21 points ahead of Blaney, who persevered for a fifth-place finish despite finishing the race with vise-grips replacing his broken shifter. He also raced cautiously throughout the first half of the race, maintaining a low line to keep a safe distance from the wall while maintaining his spot within the top 10. Any hope Blaney had virtually disintegrated during the fourth caution period of the race. The 20-year-old, who had been running second for much of the early going, suffered that shifter problem and dropped all the way to 15th on the restart. "That was one of the worst trucks we've had all year," Blaney said. "I can't believe we (managed to) finish fifth. That was tough." Kyle Larson led 96 of the first 100 laps and ended up chasing Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Darrell Wallace Jr . to the finish line in the closing laps. Wallace, driving the No. 54 Tundra, was thrilled to finally "beat the boss." Kyle Busch Motorsports captured its third NCWTS owner's championship in five seasons (second consecutively). Erik Jones made 12 starts and Busch drove 10 races in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra, which edged ThorSport and Crafton for the owner’s title by 24 points. "It's a great milestone for us," said Busch, who is ineligible to race for the driver's championship because he is a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor. "It's what we can race for. We've had a lot of people come to KBM to work who have stayed a long time. Some move on to other things. That's really what the Truck Series is all about: a proving ground and a growing series." Wallace's victory gave KBM 14 wins for the season and provided Toyota with 18 triumphs, tying Chevrolet’s 2010 mark for most wins in a single season. Ben Kennedy was named NCWTS Sunoco Rookie of the Year, despite settling for 17th in his No. 31 Chevrolet. "We weren't really all that great tonight," Kennedy said, "but it pays off for the whole season we put together. It's a testament to this team and how hard the guys at Turner Scott Motorsports worked. When we were on, we were really on – up there with the top dogs. When we were off, we struggled a little bit, but we worked hard and we worked together to make the most out of each position and each lap." Kennedy held off Tyler Reddick (sixth in his No. 19 Ford on Friday) for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, based in part on each team's 14 best finishes of the season. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Defending series champ Crafton feels less pressure
2013 champion holds 25-point lead over Blaney heading into season finale HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Matt Crafton 's drive to his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crown last season had all the characteristics of being a walkover -- a huge lead, loads of consistency and needing only to hold service in the season finale. This year, he's in a similar position, but his advantage in the standings is just 25 points compared to a commanding 46-point edge in 2013. Conventional wisdom might say that this year's pressure would outrank this year's, but Crafton -- who carried the weight of trying not to fritter away an enormous points lead last year -- isn't feeling it. "I feel a ton less pressure on me," said Crafton, a two-time winner this season. "There is not one sleepless night that I've worried about if we're going to win this championship, how can we screw this thing up, how can we lose this thing. Last year every two hours I'd wake up from about midseason on, but now if it's meant to be it will be. It's all about having fast trucks and we've had some very, very fast race trucks this year. That starts with Junior (Carl Joiner, crew chief) and every one of the guys from there on down at the shop." Crafton, who's been adamant in keeping mum about points or clinch scenarios, will need to finish 21st or better to become the only back-to-back champion in the series' 20-year history in Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Ryan Blaney , the only challenger with a mathematical shot at the championship, needs to couple a victory in the season finale with a disastrous finish from Crafton, something that's been a rarity this year. The 38-year-old Crafton has posted similar stats this season vs. 2013, but in some regards the performance from his ThorSport Racing team has been even stronger. Crafton has two wins this year versus one last season, has led more laps (298 vs. 87) and has more top-five finishes (13 vs. 7). The increase has done wonders for Crafton's confidence, to say nothing of his sleeping patterns. "I think Matt hit the nail on the head when he said last year that we don't want to be the boneheads to lose a 50-point lead," Joiner said. "We just did everything right and made sure that we showed up with something strong and Matt did it best. We didn't turn a fifth-place truck into a third-place, we took our fifth and we went home and worked on it the next week. When we finished seventh or eighth, same thing stood. He didn't put himself in a position to be the boneheads and lose 50 points. "This year I feel like from a manufacturer's standpoint, we are a lot closer now. I feel like we are showcasing a lot more speed because we've done our homework over the winter and we've built fast trucks." At 20 years, 10 months and 14 days of age on Friday, Blaney stands to become the youngest champion in series history. Though he remains a long shot, a breakthrough title would be a special parting gift to his Brad Keselowski Racing team; he'll compete full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next season and will run a partial schedule with the Wood Brothers team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series . "Even if we don't win the championship, it's been a great year," Blaney said. "I'd be more disappointed if we came here with the lead and then lose it, then you're really disappointed. We have to be realistic about our goals; we're 25 points back and he has to have some problems. If we don't win the championship, I'm going to do the best I can to win the race and that's what I'm gunning for." Two other important races remain in limbo heading into the Homestead finale. The Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Toyota -- with driving duties split this season between the owner/driver and teen phenom Erik Jones -- holds an 18-point edge over the ThorSport No. 88 in the team owner standings. In the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contest, 22-year-old Ben Kennedy carries a slim three-point advantage over Tyler Reddick , 18, into the season-ending 200 -miler. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
The Band Perry to perform before championship race at Miami
MIAMI -- In 2015, NASCAR witnessed one of the most remarkable comebacks in the sports' history, as Kyle Busch collected his first career Sprint Cup Series championship by emerging victorious in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Regardless of which of the 16 Chase drivers are part of the Championship 4 at the 2016 Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday, November 20, there is guaranteed to be another comeback completed that day. Hot off the release of their new single "Comeback Kid," Grammy® Award-winning superstar sibling trio -- The Band Perry -- will make a special live performance prior to this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship race. The Band Perry will be featured in Homestead-Miami Speedway 's pre-race show, which airs on Countdown to Green on NBC that Sunday. The Ford EcoBoost 400 championship race, which is televised in 185 countries and territories, will be broadcast on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio at 2:30 p.m. ET. The Band Perry, which consists of siblings Kimberly Perry, Neil Perry and Reid Perry, are an unstoppable presence in music. The trio has released two studio albums, The Band Perry (2010) and Pioneer (2013). Their first album went certified platinum and included the sextuple-platinum chart-topper, "If I Die Young," the platinum-selling "You Lie" and "All Your Life" (a No. 1 single). Their second album Pioneer was certified gold and also featured two No. 1 singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with the song "Better Dig Two" and "DONE", a first No. 1 for brothers Reid and Neil as songwriters. In February 2015, The Band Perry won their first Grammy®Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and have also earned multiple awards from the likes of The Country Music Association, CMT Music Awards, the American Country Awards and the Academy of Country Music. Recently named ambassadors for Teen Cancer America (a charity founded by The Who's Roger Daltrey), The Band Perry recently launched a million-dollar fundraising campaign with the nonprofit to benefit Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital to expand the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer program in Nashville. They are currently putting the finishing touches on their third studio album. "We are thrilled to have The Band Perry performing in what will be an exciting day at Homestead-Miami Speedway , which will be capped off with the Ford EcoBoost 400 championship race on Sunday," said Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer. "The Band Perry has become a household name in country music, and having them kick off the Sprint Cup Series championship race with a pre-race concert will be an electrifying experience for NASCAR and all of our fans. We can’t wait to see the show they put on in November." Tickets for 2016 Ford Championship Weekend, which will be held November 18-20, are now available and can be purchased by calling (866) 409-RACE (7223) or visiting www.HomesteadMiamiSpeedway.com .
Crafton celebrates first career Homestead win
Matt Crafton celebrates in Victory Lane after grabbing the win at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first time in his career in the Ford EcoBoost 200 .
Bruce: XFINITY Chase intensity ratchets up aggression
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid SPARTA, Ky. -- Was Saturday night's opening Chase race for NASCAR’s XFINITY Series an example of good, hard racing or a case of folks driving over their heads? That depends on who one asked afterward. Race winner Elliott Sadler wasn’t pointing fingers, and race winners have rarely been heard to utter a discouraging word. But the JR Motorsports driver said he did notice an uptick in intensity during the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway . "About halfway through the race, it was 'note to self; you can tell it's the Chase because it was caution after caution after caution," Sadler said afterward. "People were tense, eager, frustrated, nervous. A lot of different things going on with drivers right now ... trying to make it to the second (round). "I think people are giving each other less room. Restarts are crazy in the back." They were crazy up front, too. The race, which kicked off a seven-race, two-round elimination playoff for the series, saw the caution flag fly a track record 12 times. More than one-fourth of the race (64 laps) was run under the yellow. Yes, there was even a brief (5 min., 34 sec.) red-flag period. Erik Jones , the top seed and regular-season leader in race wins, got crossed up while racing with Ty Dillon and both the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ended up in the wall. RELATED: See the wreck the caught two title contenders Each is now outside eighth place in points with two races to try and improve their standing; only the top eight (with the exception of a Chase race winner that might be 9th-12th ) advance to the second round. Not surprisingly, Jones wasn't particularly pleased with the early ending to his night and said later that the aggressive driving does cause one to approach the race differently. "Yeah, it makes me try to stay out of trouble," he said. "I didn't want to have something like that happen. ... You try to play defense some. I was for sure." Of course, there was the matter of a reconfigured track that sports new asphalt and distinctly different turns. That, too, played a role in the difficulties for some. And that was to be expected, said Brendan Gaughan , driver of the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing . "It didn't seem like it was any more aggressive than normal," Gaughan said after finishing sixth. "It's a very narrow race track here right now. That Turn 3 is treacherous, man. There's no grip on the entry, there's no width on the entry. It's a treacherous, treacherous place at the moment. ... "It's still Kentucky. I love it." The fight to advance into the next round began early, but it's not the only battle going on and Saturday night's race brought some of that to light. In addition to the driver's championship, there's an owners title at stake and a couple of teams didn’t forget about that. At the end of the regular season, the No. 2 team of RCR was atop the owners' standings, followed by the No. 18 of Joe Gibbs Racing , the No. 1 of JRM with Sadler behind the wheel, and the No. 22 of Team Penske . Chevy, Toyota, Chevy and Ford . You think those folks aren't paying close attention? RCR brought in Sam Hornish Jr . to keep the No. 2 team in the hunt; Penske handed the reins to Sprint Cup driver Ryan Blaney . Sadler got the win, but a solid fifth-place run by Matt Tifft put the JGR No. 18 atop the owners' standings. JRM (No. 1) now sits second thanks to the victory while Hornish, who finished fourth, kept the RCR entry in the mix -- it's now third. Blaney did not fare badly but the way it all shook out left him third on the track and the team now fifth in the owners' battle. Dover, a fast, unforgiving mile of concrete, is up next. Some folks will be looking to rebound, some looking to continue to ride a hot start. If Kentucky was any indication, they better hope they can just hang on.
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."