Staff picks for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
Kasey Kahne : The Coca-Cola 600 is such a different animal that rewards mental acuity, pure tenacity and physical fitness. Kasey Kahne has those qualities and won NASCAR's endurance event three times, and with two top-five finishes already this season, this is where he breaks out of his 59-race winless rut. -- Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : It'll be a clean Charlotte sweep for Sliced Bread, who got his mojo back during the Sprint All-Star Race. Last week's $1 million win probably felt spectacular -- the feeling may be equal Sunday night when Logano celebrates his biggest NASCAR victory to date. -- Brad Norman Carl Edwards : He's the defending race winner and has posted five straight top 10s at Charlotte. Kevin Harvick is the only other driver who can say that, but the No. 19 pit crew gives him the edge -- by a footlong Subway sandwich at the finish. -- George Winkler Kevin Harvick : This one's an easy pick for me. There's a reason why Harvick sits atop the standings and that's exactly where he'll stay after cruising to another Coca-Cola 600 win. -- Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The most recent Charlotte winner, Logano's No. 22 Ford seems ready for 600 miles of action, as he topped two of the three rounds of qualifying, scoring a second-place starting position. With a fast car and plenty of momentum after his All-Star win, look for the Team Penske driver to punch his ticket to the Chase Sunday with his first '16 victory. -- Jessica Ruffin Martin Truex Jr . : Forget about what has gone wrong late in races for the No. 78 team, Truex has consistently been one of the best on the intermediate tracks this season. The Furniture Row Racing driver will cash in on his pole run and strong pit spot for his first win of 2016. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : Becomes first driver to sweep All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 since Kurt Busch in 2010. Logano drives the No. 22 Ford for team owner Roger Penske, Busch's team owner in '10. -- Kenny Bruce
H2H: Would 600 win mean more to Junior or Busch?
RELATED: Full 600 coverage A winner's trophy for the marathon, reputation-making Coca-Cola 600 is certainly one of the most prized possessions in all of NASCAR. The longest race (600 miles) on the NASCAR circuit is about so much more than just distance, too. There's the history of having such a contest at the 1.5-mile track just north of the Charlotte, North Carolina, NASCAR hub, not to mention this is the only race with three unique sets of elements: A race that starts under the sun, traverses to dusk and ends at night under the lights makes for three time frames with three unique sets of circumstances. Yes, it is truly a battle of man vs. machine. That's what makes it so difficult to win the Coca-Cola 600 , which both Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr . have never done. In fact, neither has won a points-paying event at Charlotte Motor Speedway . So which driver would benefit most from a win Sunday? Brad Norman and George Winkler set out to answer the question. PHOTOS: All of Busch's victories " See Junior's patriotic scheme NORMAN: So sorry, Junior Nation, but Sunday's race is more important to Kyle Busch . "Rowdy" has been on an incredible hot streak since returning from a broken leg last season -- eight wins in 37 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Four of those victories were his first at the tracks in Indianapolis, Homestead, Martinsville and Kansas, respectively. There are only two tracks remaining on the circuit where Busch has not won a Cup race -- Charlotte and Pocono. The career-sweep is a mind-boggling feat, making Sunday's event a massive deal for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. WINKLER : Sure, it would be impressive for Kyle Busch to add to his resume with a victory at Charlotte, but it would be an all-out celebration for Junior to win the Coca-Cola 600 . From downtown Kannapolis, North Carolina, (where Junior grew up) to Charlotte Motor Speedway is just a 25-minute drive, so one can only imagine the type of attention a victory like this would get. Plus, Junior has said repeatedly that winning the Coca-Cola 600 is a top priority of his and one of the gaps he'd most like to fill on his resume. NORMAN: Yeah, it's a big 'un for Junior on a personal level. History is at stake for Busch, though. Not just personal history, either -- team history. Check out some of the most historic races on the NASCAR circuit and their results over the past year -- 2015 Coca-Cola 600 ( Carl Edwards wins); 2015 Brickyard 400 ( Kyle Busch wins); 2015 Southern 500 ( Carl Edwards wins); Homestead finale ( Kyle Busch wins, and wins 2015 championship); 2016 Daytona 500 ( Denny Hamlin wins). JGR has a ridiculous streak at stake in these types of races, too. There's simply way more on the line for both "Rowdy" and the organization at large. WINKLER : See, I think the reverse is true. Because JGR has been so dominant this season, I think it's more important for Hendrick Motorsports , and particularly Junior, to re-establish their mojo. Earnhardt Jr. has wrecked in two of his last three points-paying races, has had some races where he qualified poorly but came through the field and others where he overcame in-race issues and the odds to post top fives. Considering how Junior has battled this season, I think he's tested and ready to fight for the whole 600 miles and be in a good position to win.
Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
NASCAR.com's 2016 Daytona 500 predictions
Going into 2016's season opener, members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will head to Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Restrictor-plate racing is often finicky, but it's hard to go against a proven Daytona-winning driver with a stout car that goes where he points it. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr .: As much as I'd like to see a surprise winner, inside information tells me it's Dale Jr.'s to lose. Holly Cain Denny Hamlin : He is overdue in this race, at a place he races so expertly. Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : 'Rowdy' will start 2016 the way he closed out 2015 -- on top. His dominant showing in the second Can-Am Duel was no fluke, and he'll pick up his second win of Speedweeks on Sunday. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Hard to pick against Dale Jr., but I will. Hamlin has had the speed during Speedweeks, won the Sprint Unlimited and has four straight top-six finishes at Daytona. Hamlin will snap JGR's 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 and give Toyota its first win in the "Great American Race." Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The talk at the track has Dale Jr. and his "Amelia" car winning, but the 2015 Daytona 500 champ shouldn't be forgotten. Logano's been posting top speeds all week as he continues the strong momentum from his dominant '15 season. Brad Norman Joey Logano : "Sliced Bread" becomes the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin (1994-95), overpowering those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and, yes, even race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr . Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having won half of the speedway races last season, Junior's always a top pick heading into a plate event. Tack on his Duel win Thursday and his love for his car, and you've got a recipe for Victory Lane. Taylor Starer Kyle Busch : Coming off the high of being the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch is ready to add another accomplishment to his resume: a Daytona 500 win. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have all looked strong during Speedweeks, but Busch will be the one who brings Toyota its first "Great American Race" victory. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : Amelia's a great car, but the No. 22 almost had something for Dale Jr.'s speedy ride in the Can-Am Duels. Something crazy always happens at Daytona, and the defending winner looks like he can sneak through the trouble spots again. George Winkler Ryan Blaney : Let's pick the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to pull off the upset for the Wood Brothers. Fellow Fords in the Team Penske camp can give him the push he needs to make like Trevor Bayne and shock the world.
Fantasy Daytona 500 grand marshal: Who we'd want to give the command
RELATED: Griffey Jr. named grand marshal " John Cena to drive pace car Daytona 500 dignitaries are being named. Ken Griffey Jr. will be the honorary starter. John Cena will drive the pace car. It all got us thinking -- if we could pick anybody in the world, living or dead, to be the grand marshal for the "Great American Race," who would it be? Here are NASCAR.com's staff picks. Pat DeCola Abraham Lincoln -- I'll be honest (you know, like Abe), as cool as Lincoln is, I'm only picking him because I know he knows how to fill time in a pinch. Four score and seven rain delays ago ... RJ Kraft Christopher Walken -- The man has a unique and famous delivery ("More cowbell," anyone?) that is just begging for this spot. He has countless celebrity impersonators from Kevin Spacey to Kevin Pollak to Bradley Cooper but nothing matches the original. Maggie McKenzie Oprah Winfrey -- This one was an obvious choice thanks to her incredible intelligence, powerful presence and, most importantly, that signature voice. And who knows, maybe she’ll be the first commander to hand out gifts to the fans of some of her favorite things? Brad Norman Mel Blanc -- The "Man of a Thousand Voices" most famously known as Bugs Bunny also voiced such classic characters as Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Barney Rubble -- he'd put on quite a show ... as many characters. Jessica Ruffin Paul "Bear" Bryant -- What better person to give the command of the "Great American Race" than a man who embodies America's beloved game of college football? Bonus points if the Bear's hat matches Kyle Larson 's plaid paint scheme. Kathy Sheldon James Earl Jones -- He has the best voice in the history of recorded sound. I'm certain he could make it roar across Daytona International Speedway 's 180-acre infield and through the stands. And when Jones gives you a command, you follow it. Taylor Starer Beyoncé -- If you get the opportunity to incorporate Beyoncé into NASCAR, you take it. "Queen B" has got the pipes to take on the Daytona 500 command -- that's for sure -- and while she's there, might as well get her to sing the National Anthem. George Winkler Keith Richards -- Because even if we couldn't understand what he was saying it would be combined with a great guitar riff that would more than salvage the moment. Plus, chances are it would be way cooler than if Paul McCartney did i t . @nascarcasm Sean Penn -- Because then whatever international fugitive he brings with him can give the command along with him and then the authorities can capture him and it'll be a huge story.
Are NASCAR's safety measures working?
NASCAR.com's Kathy Sheldon and George Winkler discuss developments RELATED: Dillon on wreck at Daytona: 'You feel like Superman' A pair of frightening wrecks the past two weekends, one involving Austin Dillon at Daytona and the other shaking up Ben Kennedy at Kentucky, have kept safety at the forefront of NASCAR discussions this season. While safety -- of both fans and drivers -- always is a priority for the sanctioning body, it has been of particular concern this season after Kyle Busch suffered a broken leg and foot in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona. And it has been a subject of much debate among drivers, officials, fans and analysts. RELATED: Safety improvements at Daytona Is the current course working? Kathy Sheldon and George Winkler discuss the issue for NASCAR.com this week. Post your own thoughts in the comments section below. Sheldon: One would naturally think that speed is Job No. 1 for NASCAR, but really safety has been a primary concern for years. The sanctioning body has worked hard with tracks to identify problem areas such as the unprotected area where Kyle Busch wrecked in February. The Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier technology has been a huge success. And NASCAR has been quick to respond to all race-day safety issues, not just those affecting drivers. Catch fences have been improved to shield fans, and speedy action was taken after a pit road fire at Richmond to ensure fire retardant gear protects crew members effectively. Let's not forget the HANS device, which was made mandatory following the horrific wreck that took Dale Earnhardt's life in 2001. NASCAR is quick to address problems and is working effectively to ensure the safety of competitors and fans. The current method of assess, study and implement works quite well. Winkler : Kathy, those are great examples of how NASCAR has reacted to situations with safety improvements that have made the sport better. But what tends to happen after these flashpoint moments like the Austin Dillon wreck at Daytona is there will be a segment of the population that perceives NASCAR isn't doing enough to get ahead of the curve. However, as anyone who has ever stepped foot in the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, can attest, the sanctioning body is continuing to look at potential areas of improvement even before incidents happen. Just this year NASCAR added a seventh safety belt to the driver's seat, and now the belts connect to the seat instead of the car, providing a snugger fit. That seventh belt allows more head clearance for the driver if the car were to flip over like it did in the Dillon wreck. So sometimes it's just a matter of getting the word out so people are aware of the improvements. Sorry for the plug, but we have an entire area of our site devoted to such information called Inside Track . Sheldon: George , I agree that often the flashpoints tend to overshadow a lot of the work going on. The fact is, when safety measures are working, it's what you don't see that proves the improvement. Before the latest seat belt changes, we saw composite materials come in for seats. Now it's common for drivers to tweet photos of their seats being "poured" -- they are shaped individually for drivers and made of material much stronger than the old aluminum versions. And those seats are installed meticulously. Austin Dillon 's team member Tommy Wallace talked to NASCAR's partner NBC about safety after Dillon's frightening wreck at Daytona, and his takeaway was everything worked: The only piece of equipment that broke loose in Dillon's tumble down the frontstretch was the radio. It's Wallace's job to ensure Dillon's seat is installed securely, and he explained that more than three dozen bolts inside the cockpit keep the seat leg braces steering column, seat belt mounts and other equipment in place during rough wrecks. Those pieces all worked at Daytona, holding Dillon safely in his belts and inside the roll cage, even after coming to rest upside-down. Winkler : That's amazing, all the work that goes into some of the things we take for granted when we're watching the race. But with all the safety improvements that have evolved over the years, we'd be mistaken if we didn't think more could be done. And NASCAR admits as much. As NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell said last week on SiriusXM Radio , in regards to the Dillon crash, you never want to see the car get in the air or into the catch fence. And he followed up by saying NASCAR would be working on it. That's good, that the sanctioning body isn't resting on its laurels and trying to say everything is fine. There's always room for improvement, and as we've seen in other sports, too, nobody is immune to safety issues that crop up from time to time. The leagues that continue to work through these issues, and refuse to bury their heads in the sand, will be the ones that thrive. Sheldon: The roof flap technology that helps keep cars on the ground is now 11 years old, and I agree more needs to be explored on that front. Keeping fans safe always must be a priority. It will be interesting to see how things like new see-through composite materials can be adapted for spectator safety. Some people have suggested Plexiglass at the tracks recently. Any hockey fan can attest, Plexiglass has its own issues. But the fourth generation of Gorilla Glass that soon will protect our smartphones, along with similar products, may spur bigger-scale uses. Part of NASCAR's mission is staying at the forefront of technology. You can bet the sanctioning body will keep working to find better solutions, from design to materials, in every facet of the sport, including car interiors, rules packages, catch fences and barrier technology. Everyone in the industry got some scares this year, but the sky is not falling. Work is always underway to improve safety. Winkler : No, the sky is not falling and thankfully nobody was seriously hurt in either of the crashes we recently witnessed. But it's important that voices continue to be heard, from fans, drivers, teams, tracks, and even from people like us, journalists. There can never be too many voices when it comes to safety. So the next time somebody like Kyle Busch chimes in and gives an opinion that " there's no sense in grass " at any of the tracks, don't look at it as him stirring the pot, but rather as him feeling comfortable enough to speak his mind in a sport that is receptive to change. That's the beauty of times like these, seeing people come together for the greater good. Now, if what you say comes true about the Gorilla Glass, you can bet I'll race you down the steps to be the first to pound on the glass when my favorite driver whizzes past. Kathy, you better bring your running shoes for that. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
H2H: Whose bubble is about to burst -- and by whom?
RELATED: Updated Chase Grid " Driver standings We hope you enjoyed some rest and relaxation during the off week for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Because starting this week things are about to get real -- real fast. With just two races remaining until the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is set, there are still some spots up for grabs. Ten drivers are locked into postseason berths, but that means six openings are still available -- five if you're penciling in Kyle Busch , who has four 2015 wins but is 29th in points. Of the winless drivers who'd be in the Chase if it started today ( Jamie McMurray , Ryan Newman Paul Menard , Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer ), which one is most likely to lose his spot? Conversely, of the drivers currently outside the top 16, who is most likely to win their way into the postseason party? NASCAR.com editors George Winkler and Maggie MacKenzie are here to give their opinions. Check out their take, then vote in our poll and let us know your view in the comments section below. Winkler : Hey Maggie, hopefully the pressure won't get to you like it might get to some of these drivers. These are tense times indeed. One driver I'm skeptical about making the Chase is Paul Menard . Despite his heartwarming hometown win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Road America , Menard has visited Victory Lane only once in his Sprint Cup Series career. Qualifying for the Chase based on points is a dangerous way to live, especially when you consider Menard is just plus-19 points from the cutoff line. Throw in the fact Menard hasn't had much success at Darlington or Richmond (one top-10 finish in 25 races combined) and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fall out of contention. MacKenzie: George , looks like we, once again, find ourselves in a head to head debate . You're right, tense times are upon us with the Chase looming in the near future and drivers are scrambling in last chance efforts to earn a coveted Chase berth. The clock is certainly ticking and I'm starting to feel the pressure -- are you? You've got a valid point about Menard and although I do think it is likely for him to fall out of the top 16, I'm going to have to pick a different driver. I think Clint Bowyer will be losing his spot before Menard does. Bowyer currently sits in the last spot on the grid, 17 points behind Jeff Gordon in the 15th position. Bowyer's safest bet for securing a spot in the Chase would be with a win since getting points is clearly not his forte this season. Unfortunately, the odds are against the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota as he hasn't visited Victory Lane since 2012 at Charlotte. Winkler : There's no clear choice outside of the top 16 for a driver making it into the Chase. It's going to take a special day and a pressure-packed win for any of them to get the job done. Kasey Kahne came through with the equivalent of a ninth-inning home run last year when he qualified for the Chase with a win at Atlanta in the second-to-last race of the 2014 regular season, and he could be the one to do it again. RELATED: Kahne proves bubble driver can make Chase Even though there's no reason to look at his recent performances and feel confident about the pick, there are some silver linings. He finished sixth at Richmond earlier this season, and he has a driver rating of 104.00 in the past five years at Darlington. MacKenzie: Ah, I like where you are going with this one, George . Although I don't think any driver outside of the grid has a great chance of entering the top 16, I, too, think Kahne could go for the repeat and get himself a last-minute win. And how great of a story would that make? The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been pretty vocal about how disappointing the past few races have been for him and he knows he needs a win . He has proven that he can work well under pressure after last year's Atlanta win so I say that if there is any driver who can snag a last-minute victory, it would be Kahne. MORE: Kahne knows he must win to earn Chase berth
H2H: Will Kyle Busch make the Chase?
No. 18 driver Chase eligible; but must meet two requirements RELATED: Busch gets waiver, is Chase eligible Kyle Busch got back in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 at the Sprint All-Star Race – faster than most expected after his foot and leg injuries in the season-opening XFINITY race at Daytona. And he was granted a waiver, making him Chase eligible. Whether Busch makes the Chase for the Sprint Cup depends on two factors: He must win a regular-season race; and he must crack the top 30 in the driver points standings. With two 2015 Sprint Cup points races under his belt and 13 remaining to meet those requirements, NASCAR.com began analyzing whether Busch can make it into the Challenger Round, which begins Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway . George Winkler and Kathy Sheldon have their opinions on whether Busch can make it four-for-four among his JGR teammates, who all have one win this season already. Do you think 'Rowdy' can cap off his quick recovery with a playoffs run? Tell us in the comments section below. Sheldon: Always fun to go H2H with you, George . Almost as fun as watching Kyle Busch push the limits on the track. Unfortunately, I don’t think his season will recover as fully as his body has -- and we’re all thankful he’s OK. Busch clearly has the talent and the equipment, and after Dover he has that first post-surgery wreck out of the way, which seemed to leave him unfazed. But that wreck, which gave him a 36th-place finish, all but doomed his chances of being in the top 30 in points after Richmond. He pretty much had one mulligan, and it’s used, through no fault of his own. That’s the problem, for me: Too may factors remain out of the driver’s control for Busch to achieve the 15.8th-place average over 15 races necessary to reach that 30th-place barrier. Winkler : If I were a betting man, and I'm not, the smart money is on Busch not making the Chase. Like you say, he's used up his mulligan and will be hard-pressed not only to avoid any bad luck but also to get the win he needs to advance to the Chase. That said, I have enormous respect for Busch's driving ability, and he's in top-notch equipment. This is a gut feeling, but I feel like when backed into a corner, the great ones react by overcoming the odds. Just look back to last year's Chase. Did anyone think Kevin Harvick was going to win the championship after his 33rd-place finish at Martinsville during the Eliminator Round? Probably not, but he pulled out wins at Phoenix and Homestead to get the job done. I think Kyle can be in that same class with Kevin -- and make a comeback for the ages (said in Jim Nantz voice). Sheldon: I’m not a gambling girl, either. But if I were, I’d put money on Busch getting a win, as well. But his bold checkers-or-wreckers approach to driving will cost him as he tries to climb out of this points hole. Even at Bristol, where he has five wins and 12 top-10 finishes, he wrecked out at the 2014 fall race and finished 29th in the spring race. And we have Sonoma in the next 13 races, where Busch has an average finish of 25th place over the last six races. Winkler : It's interesting that his average finish is that low in recent races at Sonoma, because Busch has been good at the other road course, Watkins Glen -- with two wins and eight top-10 finishes in 10 attempts. You mentioned Bristol, where Busch has five wins, but he also has four wins at Richmond to go along with a 7.4 average finish. However, Busch's best chance for a win might be at Kentucky, where he has an average finish of 4.5. While there are spots where Busch might not do as well as he needs to, there are plenty of others where he could boost that average and/or pick up a win. Granted, it's a tall order to make the Chase, but again, you gotta believe! Sheldon: George , I think we agree that Busch making the Chase would be a good thing. Fans would love it -- be they Kyle lovers or Kyle haters -- because no one likes to see a serious wreck injure a driver and we all enjoy great comeback stories. But one more factor out of his control is mechanical trouble. Teammate Matt Kenseth was bit by that bug at Dover, and an engine failure in the first trip to Pocono last year left Busch with a 42nd-place finish. Pocono beats up cars with bursts of speed off the corners and more shifting, as JGR crew chief Darian Grubb for Carl Edwards explains in this week’s Tech Talk . Counting that engine failure and two race-ending crashes between June and September last year, Busch was left with a 23rd-place average finish in the 13 races preceding the Chase. That won’t get him into the top 30. Winkler : Busch had some room to play with last year since he posted a win early in the season at Auto Club Speedway . He probably won't take as many chances this year given his current situation with the margin of error being so slim. As one of NASCAR's most talented drivers, he has shown he can have success on different courses. The only question will be whether he can maintain a high level of consistency, because he has proven, at least to me, that health won't be an issue. Yes, some fans would love it if Busch could make the Chase, but would Brad Keselowski ? That might be the real question we should be debating, but all kidding aside, their rivalry is yet another reason to root for Busch to make the Chase. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
H2H: Is Truex Jr. legitimate championship contender?
No. 78 gets his win, but the postseason is different RELATED: Truex breaks through for Pocono win " Drivers rally around Truex Martin Truex Jr. broke through for an emotional win on Sunday at Pocono that virtually assured the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet would be in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But now that he has secured a winner sticker for his car, is Truex considered a legitimate championship contender for the fall? In the latest Head-to-Head, George Winkler and Jerry Snow offer their views on Truex, who has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Read their opinions, then duke it out for yourself in the comments section below. Winkler : Hey Jerry, welcome to our virtual version of UFC's Octagon. I'd like to kick things off by saying that typically I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. Therefore, yes I'm buying into Truex being a championship contender. However, besides my penchant for being optimistic, another reason to believe in the No. 78 is because there hasn't been a reason not to believe in the No. 78 this season. Thirteen top-10 finishes in the first 14 races will do that for you. Plus, Truex has posted the most laps led in each of the past three races. His car has been fast, and his results have been anything but fluky. Snow: Thanks George , now let's rumble. Truex is one of the best stories of the season, but he's not ready for prime time. He has only three career wins and this is his 10th full-time season. Truex must develop an edge before he can be a champion. Right now, it seems like he's just happy to be here. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are the class of the field, and if you want to talk dark horses, I could see Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski (both have an edge) in the winner's circle at Homestead before Truex. I'm happy for him that he finally broke through this year, but I don't think anyone is ready to call Truex a "closer." MORE H2H: Will Kyle Busch make the Chase? Winkler : I'd also like to see Truex show some outward fire. But that doesn't mean he lacks an inner fire. Truex has been through some difficult circumstances during the past couple of seasons. First, there's his girlfriend Sherry Pollex's battle against ovarian cancer. Before that, there was the huge setback after the Michael Waltrip Racing dustup in 2013 when Truex lost his ride. To witness how he has weathered both of those extremely difficult situations with dignity and class tells me that he's tough enough to deal with the ebbs and flows of a championship Chase in the fall. Snow: Maybe this is his time, but my gut tells me different. I'm not suggesting Truex is void of mental toughness, I just don't think he hates losing as much as a Johnson, a Harvick or a Keselowski. Those guys couldn't care less about a top 10 or even a top five. Over his career, Truex has finished among the top 10 more than 30 percent of the time (108 out of 347 starts), but he's won less than 1 percent of the races he's entered. At this stage in his career, Truex is conditioned to be satisfied with top 10s; he's obviously still learning how to win races. At 35 years old, I don't think his window of opportunity is closed, but until I see a sense of urgency, I'm going to expect the same results. Winkler : There's no doubt it will be a challenge for Truex to compete with champions like Johnson, Harvick and Keselowski down the stretch. But there's something clicking with Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. I think that relationship has rejuvenated Truex and was exactly what he needed at this point in his career. As we saw last year with Team Penske's drivers and Harvick, once they caught on to the new rules package they seemed to maintain an advantage throughout the season. Truex and Pearn have clearly honed in on something, and the only ones not playing catch-up are Harvick and Johnson. That is impressive for a one-car team based in Denver. Snow: Truex and Pearn have figured some things out, and it's been entertaining to watch an underdog outperform some of the icons of the industry. But can we really expect him to keep this up against the big dogs? Or looking at it another way, isn't it just a matter of time before some of the established veterans like Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards put it together? Truex has the talent to win a championship one day, but it won't be this year. SHOP: Truex Jr. gear " WATCH: Truex recounts long road back to Victory Lane FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
H2H: Should Kyle Busch have to earn his way into Chase?
RELATED: Full series standings " Chase Grid Kyle Busch was literally just a few gallons from making it into the top 30 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings last week at Pocono Raceway. And since he already has four wins this season getting into the top 30 is one of the last hurdles he needs to clear in order to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . But what if Busch, who currently sits 13 points behind David Gilliland in 30th, isn't able to get into the top 30 by the end of Richmond, just five races from now? Would Busch deserve special consideration to be allowed into the Chase? Maggie MacKenzie and George Winkler debate the topic; feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below. MORE: What Busch needs to make the Chase " Busch runs dry at Pocono Winkler : Hey Maggie, hopefully you don't have any Ronda Rousey-style roundhouse kicks for me this week, but just in case you do, I'm going to come strong with this: Let the man in the Chase even if he doesn't qualify in the next five races. A championship is about watching the cream rise to the top, and it would be a shame if a driver with four wins couldn't be included in the postseason. It'd be like a 10-6 team missing the playoffs in the NFL because it's in a tough division while a 7-9 division winner in a weaker division is allowed to go. MacKenzie: You make some pretty valid points there George , but I'm going to have to disagree with you on some things. I promise I won't go all Ronda Rousey on you but don't expect me to pull a Ms. 34 seconds (aka Bethe Correia) on you, either. This is the biggest issue I have with the whole Kyle Busch -Chase debate: Rules are rules and if you start breaking them for one individual you have to break them for every single driver too. Yes "Rowdy" has made himself quite comfortable in Victory Lane with his cinematic-like comeback, but if he wants to get inside the coveted top 30 then he will have to continue his streak in these next five races. Kyle isn't asking for our pity, so why on earth are we going to give it to him? Winkler : I don't want to say it's pity, but there is precedent for NASCAR making last-minute tweaks under extraordinary circumstances. In 2013 Jeff Gordon was added as the 13th driver in what was then a 12-driver field because of the fallout from the Richmond scandal that contributed to Gordon dropping out of the field. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France stepped in and added Gordon to the Chase because in his words it was the right thing to do. I think it would be the right thing to do to include a four-win driver in the Chase so maybe a 17th driver would be an option. MacKenzie: I definitely agree with you on the whole Gordon thing Mr. Winkler , it was the right thing to do. But in my opinion, likening the 2013 incident with Kyle’s is like, not to sound too cliché or anything, comparing apples and oranges. Kyle fell victim to injury while Gordon was on the receiving end of a huge scandal. Both were horrible, but entirely different scenarios. Whether we like it or not, injuries happen frequently in professional sports. You have Curt Schilling with his infamous bloody sock, Tiger Woods' double stress fracture, the list goes on. Kyle took the time to rehab his leg and foot and is back, better than ever, so let's sit back and watch him continue doing what he does best and he will get into the Chase on his own.