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.
H2H: Sizing up the first Chase cutoff at Dover
RELATED: Chase Grid " Bubble Watch Story lines abound, NASCAR.com's Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics before the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason makes its first elimination at Dover International Speedway . 1. Which driver currently below the Chase cutoff line is most likely to advance to the Round of 12? Cain: I realize this is a long-shot and a sentimental pick, but I'm not counting Tony Stewart out of his final Chase run quite yet. I remember watching him win five of the 10 Chase races -- including the 2011 season finale -- to grab his third title from Carl Edwards ' clutches. Stewart is 11 points from the transfer position heading into the weekend, but he also is a three-time winner at Dover. Albert : Jamie McMurray , primarily based on the performance increase that Chip Ganassi Racing has enjoyed in recent weeks. While his teammate Kyle Larson has more regularly competed for wins, McMurray has been a tick more consistent. In the opening round, staying steady and avoiding the Monster Mile's pitfalls may be enough. 2. Which driver currently above the Chase cutoff line is most likely to be eliminated at Dover? Cain: Kurt Busch has only one top-10 finish in his last nine starts at Dover. Similarly, Carl Edwards has only a single top 10 in his last eight starts at the Monster Mile. They are 16 and 15 points, respectively, above the cutoff line. While that's some cushion to the good, they will need to perform well Sunday as this is a place where crazy things have happened. Ask Jimmie Johnson . Albert : The provisional top 12 is a pretty stout list. While Chase Elliott has righted the ship to a degree from his dreadful July and August stretch, he'll need to conjure up the positive mojo from his third-place finish at Dover in May and avoid the mistakes that he tends to lament so bitterly. 3. Of the two, who is more likely to win the championship: Martin Truex Jr . or Kevin Harvick ? Cain: This is the $10 million question. In the preseason and again before the Chase I picked Jimmie Johnson to hoist the trophy. But clearly Truex and Harvick have proven themselves -- again -- as the drivers to be dealt with. Truex drives a Toyota, which has shown itself the power of the field, and his Furniture Row Racing team is exactly the kind of "all-in," underdog, feel-good story that would make anyone smile. But as Harvick showed this past weekend, he should never, ever be underestimated. He's as motivated, focused and ready as he's ever been for a title and is the only driver in the series that has been in the Championship 4 each year of the new elimination format. Albert : Truex and Harvick have certainly made a case for their championship credentials in the opening two races of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. No weak links, regardless of the venue, for either of these two, save for Truex's early season tendencies to have odd occurrences make victories somehow slip away. Still, it's hard to anoint either one with eight races left in the 10-race playoffs with plenty of opportunity for mess-ups, especially at wild-card tracks Talladega and Martinsville. Forced to pick one of the two, I'll call the coin toss in the air for Harvick.
Furniture Row Racing: The story behind Denver's team
NASCAR senior writer Holly Cain, and NASCAR Productions, traveled to Denver , Colorado to present an in depth look at NASCAR's only team west of the Mississippi River, Furniture Row Racing, and their rise to racing success.
Monday on NASCAR.com: Denver's race team
NASCAR senior writer Holly Cain and NASCAR Productions traveled to Denver , Colorado, and spoke with the community that has embraced Furniture Row Racing. Stay tuned to NASCAR.com for the in-depth article and video on Monday, September 12th.
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Complete schedule for Sonoma and Road America
Plan your NASCAR weekend with these on-track, live interview times
Runner-up Bell: 'Just got to keep digging'
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Truck Chase Grid LOUDON, N.H. – Christopher Bell had what he described as a "good … no, great" truck after his second-place finish in Saturday's UNOH 175 Camping World Truck Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . If Bell's No. 4 Toyota Tundra was "good … no, great," his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate William Byron's race-winning No. 9 entry was great … no, incredible. "All day long, we couldn't run with him and we had 175 (laps) to get it done and we didn't," Byron told NASCAR.com on pit road after the race. "I think he was fading there at the end and lapped traffic was not doing him any favors, so open race track (I probably couldn't have caught him), but the way it was, I maybe had a shot at it." The dominant showing in which KBM trucks led every single lap -- 161 for Byron, 11 for Bell and three for Cody Coughlin 's No. 51, which ran out of gas late – may very well clue us into half the battle contestants we'll be looking at in less than two months at Homestead-Miami Speedway when four drivers compete for the inaugural Camping World Truck Series Chase crown. Based on what we saw Saturday, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to not include the streaking Byron and Bell tag-team among the quartet. Byron no longer has to sweat the Chase wild card that looms at Talladega next month in the Round of 8 as he's clinched his berth to the next series of races, while Bell's next-best result puts him in good position to move on should a rare – for him – hiccup occur. In the following Round of 6, it could be the No. 4 driver's time to land in Victory Lane for the second time this season. Bell picked up his second career Camping World Truck Series victory earlier this season at Gateway Motorsports Park and showed his strength at the "Magic Mile," two tracks similar in length and build to the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway . "(The similarities between here and Gateway) kind of, maybe (helped)," Bell said. "Gateway was not a race track that I had circled on my schedule that I thought I would have a possible win at, so to come here and be as good as we were, I think it's just a testimony to my crew chief, Jerry (Baxter). He does an awesome job, especially at these flat tracks where he has it all figured out." And don't expect the nerves to get in the way, as the 21-year-old was unfazed by any pressure that came along with Saturday marking the landmark first-ever Chase for the series, approaching it like any other race. "I think it was probably pretty similar (to what I was expecting). You just gotta treat these things the same," Bell said. "All these races are important; you never come out here to finish second. "Just gotta keep digging and pay attention and not make mistakes."
NASCAR TV schedule: August 22-28
RELATED: NASCAR on TV channel finder " Find NBCSN in your area All times ET Monday, August 22 5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FS1 Tuesday, August 23 6 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 (re-air), FS1 5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FS1 5:30 p.m., NASCAR Scan All Special (re-air), NBCSN 6 p.m., NASCAR America, NBCSN Wednesday, August 24 3 p.m., NASCAR: The List - Dale Earnhardt Sr. Moments (re-air), NBCSN 3:30 p.m., NASCAR: The List - Memorable Moments (re-air), NBCSN 4 p.m., NASCAR: The List - Rookie Seasons (re-air), NBCSN 4:30 p.m., NASCAR: The List - Iconic Cars (re-air), NBCSN 5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FS1 5 p.m., NASCAR: The List - Texas Motor Speedway (re-air), NBCSN 5:30 p.m., NASCAR: The List - Daytona Memories (re-air), NBCSN 6 p.m., NASCAR America, NBCSN Thursday, August 25 5 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FS1 6 p.m., NASCAR America, NBCSN 6:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: UNOH 200 (re-air), FS2 7 p.m., NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race: Watkins Glen International (taped), NBCSN 8 p.m., NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race: Evergreen Speedway (taped), NBCSN Friday, August 26 Noon, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN 1:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, FS2 4 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS2 5 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN 6:30 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN 7:30 p.m., NASCAR Whelen Series: Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (taped), NBCSN 8:30 p.m., NASCAR Whelen Series: Bristol Motor Speedway (taped), NBCSN 9 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice (re-air), FS1 10:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice (re-air), FS1 Midnight, NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race: Watkins Glen International (re-air), NBCSN Saturday, August 27 8:30 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC 9:30 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 11:30 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, CNBC 12:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Setup, FS1 1 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation, FS1--start delayed by rain, coverage shifts to FS2 2:30 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN 3 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville , NBCSN 11:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation (re-air), FS1 Sunday, August 28 1:30 a.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation (re-air), FS2 11:30 a.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FS1 1 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN 1:30 p.m., WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: Virginia International Raceway, FS1 2 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 , NBCSN 5:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN 6 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN 10 p.m., NASCAR Whelen Series: Watkins Glen International (re-air), NBCSN 10:30 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1 &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp;