H2H: Debating who's next as a first-time winner in 2017
RELATED: Driver Tracker for 2017 " New season, new looks Breakthrough victories in NASCAR's top division are often career-altering, a boost that helps aspiring drivers shed the "contender" label by advancing to the "winner" echelon. Last season, two drivers -- Chris Buescher and Kyle Larson -- filled their void in the win column in a fanciful August stretch that saw both visit Victory Lane. With the 2016 calendar out the window, the prospects for a new driver reaching the ranks of the first-timers are promising. As New Year's resolutions still fresh on their minds, NASCAR.com's George Winkler and Zack Albert size up their top candidates for new winners in 2017. Winkler : Chase Elliott was close to winning on a number of occasions last season, as evidenced by 10 top-five finishes, including two second-place showings at Michigan. In the second of those Michigan races, he fell behind Larson on a late restart that led to the aforementioned breakthrough win for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. But Elliott is a hard worker and will learn from his close calls and eventually will get a breakthrough win of his own. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had top-10 finishes in 17 of 36 races last year, and out of those top 10s, five came on tracks two miles or longer like Michigan, five came on short tracks and seven were on intermediate tracks. That says he can get it done almost anywhere, and to have that kind of talent at 21 years old is impressive. Plus, Elliott proved to be a worthy replacement in the No. 24 Chevrolet for legend Jeff Gordon, so although expectations will remain high, at least he he has that first year under his belt. And with the combination of Elliott's talent and Hendrick's top-notch personnel and equipment, it's just a matter of time before he's in Victory Lane. Albert: Won't disagree with a Chase Elliott pick at all. In many regards, it's surprising he didn't reach Victory Lane in his rookie year last season. Ditto Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers. But there's one other driver new to the rookie ranks who bears watching. Erik Jones may just have three Cup Series starts (and one long relief stint -- see: Denny Hamlin , Bristol, April 2015) to his credit, but he's stepping into a prime position for his Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign this year. Jones will join Furniture Row Racing 's just-born No. 77 Toyota team in 2017, drawing on the Joe Gibbs Racing resources that have aided his accelerated climb up the NASCAR ladder. The 20-year-old driver already has plenty of prep at the XFINITY Series level, with six victories in his two full seasons. While growing pains for Jones and his newly expanding team are to be expected, a first-time triumph wouldn't register as a total shock, either. Expect Elliott to break through, but leave room for Jones on the list, too.
What we're thankful for, NASCAR edition
The weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing colors, the days are getting shorter ... and there's no on-track NASCAR action for a while. All of the above means one thing: It's Thanksgiving. Given that this is a time to pause and reflect on the many things for which we are thankful, here are some of the many NASCAR-related things the editorial staff of NASCAR.com are thankful for: We are thankful for ... • Jimmie Johnson . NASCAR is fortunate that one of its greatest drivers is also one of its greatest men. -- Brad Norman • Martin Truex Jr .'s mean air guitar on the NASCAR on NBC intro song of "Bringing Back the Sunshine." Truex showed off his rock star-like ability on the track this season in one of the feel-good stories of 2016. Seeing Truex and girlfriend Sherry Pollex tackle her fight with cancer head-on has been especially impactful for me on a personal level as my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer. -- RJ Kraft • Kyle Larson 's penchant for riding the high line ever-so-close to the wall. It adds an element of edge-of-your-seat excitement to any race where he's running in the front because you never know what's going to happen next. -- George Winkler • Seeing the Tide car ride again at Darlington. -- Kathy Sheldon • Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s positivity and transparency. Not many athletes would let fans and media into a very personal concussion recovery process, but Junior has been as honest and upbeat as ever throughout his healing. His continued presence at the track and positive voice in the sport has been a blessing to us all. – Jessica Ruffin • Jimmie Johnson . Being able to work for NASCAR and have a front row seat to history being made with his seventh Sprint Cup Series championship is something I’ll never forget. I'm in awe of his talent. This must be what it was like working for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. -- Pat DeCola • SAFER barrier and safety personnel. We haven't stopped writing about injuries, but the instances are much less frequent today. -- Kenny Bruce • Martin Truex Jr ., Sherry Pollex and Barney Visser, who had the courage to do something different and run a race team from Denver. All the time and effort the Furniture Row Racing team puts in is clearly paying off, and I look forward to watching them grow to two teams next season with Erik Jones . -- George Winkler • Night races in the summer heat. -- Kathy Sheldon • Short-track racing. The action at Bristol and Martinsville is typically among the most entertaining of the season. Richmond produced a bump-and-run between teammates in the spring, and Iowa also is a great track. Tempers tend to flare at the smaller venues, and the racing is among the tightest you'll see all season. -- RJ Kraft • Local short tracks. Dirt? Asphalt? Quarter-mile? Three-eighths? Yes. -- Brad Norman • Daytona in February and Homestead in November. There aren't two better places, or tracks, to begin and end a season. All the ones in between? Yeah, they're pretty nice, too. -- Kenny Bruce
Staff picks for Talladega Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : The Daytona 500 winner has experience in getting to Victory Lane at restrictor-plate tracks. If his tendency for sour luck in the Chase -- see last year's odd roof flap issue in this race -- doesn't bite him, Hamlin has a strong shot at advancing with a Talladega win. -- Zack Albert Brad Keselowski : He was backed against a wall in 2014 and came through with a dramatic win to advance in the Chase, and he'll do it again on the heels of winning at Talladega this spring. -- George Winkler Brad Keselowski : Seems like an obvious pick because of Keselowski's two restrictor-plate wins this season coming into Talladega. But the former Cup champ is so good at this form of racing, particularly at Talladega where he got his first career Cup win and three more including this spring. And most importantly ... he needs a good showing to advance in the Chase. This is his race. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : The man who doesn't need the win -- thanks to his Charlotte victory -- gets the W to lock some strong competition out of the Round of 8. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : The talented Team Penske driver hasn't had exceptional results this season, but he's been lurking. We saw what he can do in this round last year, and I think he turns it on when it counts and takes Talladega for the second year in a row. -- Pat DeCola Matt Kenseth : One year after a Round of 12 he'd rather forget, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran leaves no doubt and secures his second career win at Talladega. -- Brad Norman Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
NASCAR.com staff predicts 2016 Sprint Cup champion
RELATED: Stats breakdown reveals championship favorite Carl Edwards : Went with the No. 19 as a championship pick on my pre-Chase grid, thinking the postseason schedule lined up favorably. The Championship 4 -- especially this season -- is a toss-up, but Edwards' history at Homestead (two wins, two poles) may tip the scales. -- Zack Albert Joey Logano : The Team Penske driver has been loose and fast throughout the Chase and comes into this weekend's race with much-needed final-round experience. Crew chief Todd Gordon is one of the best. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : Jimmie was my preseason pick to win his seventh championship, and I feel even better about the selection now. No one in his era is better at winning titles and he has shown the ability to do whatever is necessary at Homestead to secure the prized hardware. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : Now that Johnson has figured out how to outlast his competition in the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, don't expect him to let a historic seventh championship slip from his grip. -- Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters with the least amount of pressure as the defending champion, and that should lead to a relaxing and celebration-filled weekend in Miami. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : Over the last four races he's won twice, led for 302 laps and has finished no worse than ninth. To say he's on fire is an understatement. -- Maggie MacKenzie Kyle Busch : Let's not overthink this. The defending champion is back in the title race, as the best driver on the best team in NASCAR. He also has been the best driver in the Chase, with six top-five finishes through nine races. Busch repeats. -- Brad Norman Jimmie Johnson : Johnson & Co. showed speed in practice and fought through a tough qualifying session, proving they have the calm resilience -- and long-run speed -- needed to win the coveted title No. 7. -- Jessica Ruffin Carl Edwards : All the reminders of that tiebreaker loss in 2011 have stoked the fire of title desire. Edwards' No. 19 has the speed, and we know JGR equipment is stout. A will and a way combine for a championship. -- Kathy Sheldon Carl Edwards : Sentimentally, I'd like to see him get redemption for 2011 and for Concrete Carl to cement a Hall of Fame-worthy career, but he's also a good pick from a stats perspective. He has the best average finish at Homestead among the Championship 4 drivers and the most career wins there (two). -- George Winkler
Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard. -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard, backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard, so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
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
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: 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.
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