Going into the final race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will win the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway ( Ford EcoBoost 400 3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Jeff Gordon : One last dose of No. 24 magic? With Hendrick Motorsports devoting all possible resources to sending the legendary driver off in championship style, Gordon is not only a sentimental pick, but a well-reasoned one for a fifth title in his career finale. Holly Cain Jeff Gordon : While Gordon would be the overwhelming sentimental pick, this is one of the toughest championship battles to decide. All four drivers have hugely emotional backstories. These four make this one of toughest title picks ever so I'll take the sentimental option and go Gordon. Kenny Bruce Jeff Gordon : Sure it would be a great story, but Gordon's shown the speed here this weekend to make contending for the championship more than just a fantasy. Pat DeCola Kevin Harvick : Miami is Harvick' s race (and title) to lose. With seven straight top-10 finishes at the track we know he's going to be at the front of the pack -- and, more importantly, in front of Kyle Busch , Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr . RJ Kraft Martin Truex Jr .: The clock will not strike midnight on this Cinderella story. The 78 team has been strong at intermediate tracks all year and Homestead is statistically Truex's best track. The single-car Furniture Row Racing team and Truex will have a crowning moment on Sunday. George Winkler Jeff Gordon : This is one of those times when you don't look at the stats and you pick with your gut. After all, who wants to be the guy who goes against Gordon and watches sadly as the legend walks off into the sunset with his fifth career Sprint Cup Series championship? Don't be that guy. Taylor Starer Kevin Harvick : My heart is telling me to choose Jeff Gordon as the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, but my head is telling me Harvick. The reigning champ is comfortable heading into the final race of the season and has proven to be as cool as a cucumber under Chase pressure. Brad Norman Martin Truex Jr .: The spotlight (rightfully) is on Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick , but Truex loves Miami and he’s been sneaky fast on intermediates all year. I predict he gets a break -- broken part for a competitor? slow late pit stop? -- and stealthily assumes the lead, then powers his way to a victory … and a championship. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon : While his cars may not have possessed the speed of Kevin Harvick 's or reached Victory Lane as many times as Kyle Busch this season, Gordon has one major component on his side; momentum. The four-time champion will close out his career with a bang on Sunday with a fifth and final championship. Kathy Sheldon Kyle Busch : Pressure and equipment will be the two biggest factors on Sunday, but sheer will is right up there. Kyle Busch has seen his career flash before his eyes this year; race pressure pales in comparison. He fought hard to get back in the car, in Victory Lane and now in the Chase Championship 4. And Joe Gibbs Racing cars still have plenty of power. Maggie MacKenzie Kevin Harvick : Harvick is thirsty to defend his championship title and with an impressive 12 top 10s in 14 starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway , the wheelman for the No. 4 races hard here. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is also coming off a run with back-to-back top-three results at Texas and Phoenix so despite having the worst qualifying seed out of the Championship 4, "Happy" will find a way to get out front -- and stay there.
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the final race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Phoenix International Raceway , which was renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for Sunday's event ( Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 , 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Kevin Harvick has won the last four races at the 1-mile track. Can he be stopped from winning his fifth in a row? Zack Albert Kevin Harvick : Failing a blow-up or some other catastrophic outcome, it's hard to go against the chalk and the No. 4 team, which has led more than two-thirds of the laps in the last three Phoenix races. Expect Harvick to defend his 2014 crown with Phoenix as a launching pad. Kenny Bruce Kurt Busch . Starting on the front row, fastest in both Saturday practices and likely needing a win to advance to the Championship Round, the 41 gets it done. Brad Norman Kurt Busch . It's a dream scenario for Stewart-Haas Racing as Busch wins his way into the finale, where Kevin Harvick will join him to defend his title. George Winkler Jimmie Johnson : After crossing the finish line first at Texas, Johnson exclaimed, "We're back!" And who are we to argue with a six-time champion? When Johnson gets on one of his patented rolls, look out. "Six-Time" ties "The Intimidator" with win No. 76 from the pole. Kathy Sheldon Kevin Harvick . A win locks in his spot in the Championship 4 and the chance to defend his 2014 Sprint Cup title at Homestead. Bad luck already bit the No. 4 this round, so it will be smooth sailing for Harvick at Phoenix, where his prowess is unmatched lately. Pat DeCola Joey Logano : My Eliminator Round picks have been spot on thus far, so why not pick the driver who was perfect in the Contender Round to keep the streak alive? Logano is looking to rebound from two rough outings at Martinsville and Texas. He needs to win at Phoenix -- and he will. RJ Kraft Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver has been in a win-or-go-home spot before and come through successfully (see Talladega, 2014). A disappointing starting spot combined with his position in the standings will allow crew chief Paul Wolfe to be super aggressive with his calls to lead Keselowski to his desert destiny and win at Phoenix. Jessica Ruffin Kurt Busch : Busch has been consistently strong this weekend, running in the top three in practice and nabbing a front-row starting position. He's also in the same equipment as Phoenix pro Kevin Harvick , with all the motivation he needs in the form of a final four Chase spot -- and a chance at the title. Maggie MacKenzie Kevin Harvick : The undisputed King of Phoenix has an incredible seven wins at the 1-mile track and has emerged the victor in the last four races there. There’s no reason why Harvick won’t be able to make it eight trips to Victory Lane after coming off some strong runs at Martinsville (eighth) and Texas (third). With a career total of 1,202 laps led at Phoenix, expect "Happy" to dominate the leaderboard.
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the second race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Texas Motor Speedway ( AAA Texas 500 , 2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Kyle Busch : With four top fives in his most recent five Texas starts, Busch has Lone Star momentum that could carry him to Homestead's championship round. Expect the best Chase of his career to get that much better with six-shooters a-blazin' in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Kevin Harvick : The defending champ flexes his muscle and earns a shot at his second crown. Brad Norman Kevin Harvick : Forget all the talk about Harvick winning next week at Phoenix -- although he may do that, too -- to advance in the Chase. The defending series champ will earn his way back to Homestead with a dominant outing on Sunday. George Winkler Joey Logano : He had arguably the best car again last week before Matt Kenseth wrecked him, so provided Joey can stay focused within a media circus, he'll have a great chance at a track where he has won as recently as spring 2014. Kathy Sheldon Kyle Larson : Pressure's peaking among the Eliminator 8, creating a huge distraction. And Larson has top-10 finishes at two of his four career Sprint Cup races at Texas. Larson likes big, fast tracks, and that's Texas Motor Speedway . RJ Kraft Kyle Busch : The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has a solid history at Texas (he won there in 2013) and it's his best track left on the schedule. Look for "Rowdy" to join Jeff Gordon by locking up a Championship 4 spot. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson : In or out of title contention, a winless Jimmie Johnson in the Chase just isn't a thing that happens. The three-time defending victor of this race will add a fourth straight trip to Victory Lane and ride out of Fort Worth wearing yet another black hat. Taylor Starer Joey Logano : Logano is coming off a rough week at Martinsville, where his 37th-place finish dropped him to last in the Chase standings. This year's Daytona 500 winner is looking for redemption, along with a ticket to the Championship 4 Round. Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver has been racing under the radar throughout the Chase, but the AAA Texas 500 could change everything. Keselowski, who sits sixth on the Chase Grid, statistically has done well at Texas and earned a top-five result in the spring race.
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the first race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Martinsville Speedway ( Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 , 1:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Denny Hamlin : Expect the No. 11 to prevail in his home state for Hamlin's sixth grandfather clock, denying the remaining Chasers an automatic berth in the Homestead championship finale. Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : Johnson shares win record (eight) for active drivers at Martinsville with teammate Jeff Gordon . Bad fast in practice. No Chase pressure. In other words, everything to gain and nothing to lose. Brad Norman Joey Logano : Because why not? He's starting from the pole and has won three consecutive races. Make it four. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have more history on their side, but Junior will use the disappointment from last weekend as motivation to get his second grandfather clock (first for crew chief Greg Ives). Kathy Sheldon Jeff Gordon : The intensity is there, and so is the confidence at Martinsville, where he has eight career wins and a runner-up finish in this race last year. The four-time champion is serious about chasing down title number five. Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having just missed the next round of the Chase with a runner-up result at Talladega Sunday, Junior heads to Martinsville with something to prove -- and a fast race car, to boot. He’s also the reigning race winner and calls the paperclip oval one of his favorite tracks on the circuit. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon : Martinsville's fall race is what Gordon has been waiting for. The four-time Sprint Cup champ doesn't plan on ending his lengthy career with a winless season or without scoring one more win at a track where he's had eight victories. Maggie MacKenzie Carl Edwards : With the recent Joe Gibbs Racing difficulties, Edwards is the team's biggest hope to snag the 2015 championship. He may not have a win at Martinsville, but the driver of the No. 19 Toyota has finished outside the top 10 only once thus far in the Chase. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Yes, Hamlin is out of the Chase, but that doesn't mean he can't go out and get another win. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has one of the best cars this weekend as he eyes a sweep of the Martinsville races for the second time in his career. Pat DeCola Jeff Gordon : A winless final season just doesn't seem to fit the four-time champion's style. With more career victories at "The Paperclip" (eight) than any other track on his resume, you can book Gordon's trip to Victory Lane this weekend -- along with his spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead.
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
RELATED: Complete Sunday schedule " Kes takes Darlington pole Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for one of the most prestigious races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar: the Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Kyle Busch : The tradition returns? Kyle Busch leading piles of laps at Darlington has some heritage, too. Kenny Bruce Jeff Gordon : A five-time Southern 500 winner, Gordon secures a spot in the Chase in his final Darlington appearance. Holly Cain Kevin Harvick : Coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the previous two races, it's time Harvick re-visits victory lane for a proper Chase send-off and his second straight Darlington win. MORE: Darlington throwback paint schemes Brad Norman Kurt Busch : The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three career poles, but no wins at Darlington. That changes Sunday as the No. 41 notches a momentum-building win with the Chase looming. George Winkler Kevin Harvick : Fans looking for a surprise winner to shake up the Chase won't get it because Harvick has been just too good all season and is in prime position (third in lineup) for a repeat performance at Darlington. Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr . : Sure, Truex started the season with 13 top-10s in his first 15 races and only has two in the nine events since, but it's hard to picture the No. 78 team not regaining its strength as we roll into the Chase. With a low-downforce package at Darlington that would seem to favor Truex -- a vocal proponent of as little downforce as possible -- a Southern 500 win for the Furniture Row Racing driver seems like more than just a dark horse pick. RJ Kraft Kevin Harvick : No Cup driver has repeated at Darlington since Greg Biffle did in 2006, and Harvick will as he also sees his string of oh-so-close calls for a third 2015 victory come to an end at the “Lady in Black." Jessica Ruffin Brad Keselowski : Pole-sitter Keselowski's speed during practice and qualifying at "The Lady in Black," coupled with his strength with the low downforce rules package at Kentucky tells me he is going to be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday night. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : He loved the low downforce package at Kentucky, finishing second with it. He's on a roll with two wins in the last three races. And he found some speed in practice at Darlington, breaking into the top 10 in early practice.
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
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
Would you rather watch under the sun or stars? RELATED: Junior prefers day races over night Last week while speaking at Charlotte Motor Speedway , it came out that Dale Earnhardt Jr . thinks the daytime is the right time for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. Junior had his reasons, and you can read them at the link above, but it got us at NASCAR.com thinking about which type of races we prefer. Some tracks shine at night, such as Bristol Motor Speedway for the annual night race there in the late summer, and fans look forward to the event months in advance. Meanwhile, other venues sparkle during the daylight. Like, how could we beat the day at Talladega earlier this season? Bright skies and that big American flag in the background. What could be better? Kathy Sheldon and George Winkler have their preferences as to which time they like races and are ready to debate. Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below. Winkler : Alright, Kathy. Boogity, boogity, boogity, let's go debating. I'll start off speaking from the heart. My first live sporting event with my dad was a day baseball game in San Francisco between the Giants and Cardinals. And as a kid I remember just how bright and green that field appeared the first time I laid eyes on it. Had it been a night game, it would have been past my bedtime. So I empathize with parents who are bringing their sons and daughters to their first race. I want them to have the same bright experience I had because that is what will set them on the path to becoming a true sports fan. Sheldon: George , we share an abiding love for baseball, as well as racing. I, too, was a wee lass when my family took me to my first game at Wrigley Field -- a day game. I would argue all day long for more day baseball, but racing is different for me. Baseball fans usually spend less than 3-1/2 hours total at the ballpark. That's including player introductions, the national anthem, and buying souvenirs before or after the game. Out of 12 races so far this season, NASCAR fans have seen five events go past the 3.5-hour mark. Just the racing. The Coca-Cola 600 was 4 hours and 3 minutes -- of baking in the sun. The deeper we go into summer, the hotter those afternoon races get. Plus, remember many NASCAR fans travel to see races. Saturday night races give them a chance to get some shut-eye then make their way home on Sunday and not miss any work vs. driving late into the night Sunday or taking a day off on Monday. Winkler : Kathy, you make a great point about the travel for the fans being more convenient on Sunday after a Saturday night race. Those of us who work in the business certainly appreciate those Sundays off, too. But stepping away from the fan experience for a bit, let's talk about the actual racing. Junior thinks there's better racing during the day because the surface is hotter, the track is slicker and the groove is wider. These are some of the reasons I love watching the race at Auto Club Speedway , for example. With a racing surface that's wide open during the day, it gives drivers the chance to try different grooves and can lead to exciting moments and different strategies. Plus, those California views! Or Phoenix or Las Vegas for that matter. Can't see those at night! Sheldon: Sticking with the fan experience for one more second, what you can see at night is the fireworks on the track. Did you not think it was the coolest thing ever the first time you saw the brake rotors glowing on 43 cars going 150-plus mph? Only at night can you see the sparks flying when the exhaust or suspension pieces hit the pavement during braking in the corners or when cars make contact. As for better racing, I like seeing the strategy of which team can beat the changing conditions. Going from early evening setting sun track temperatures to cooler night temperatures is just one more facet in the battle of man vs. machine. This spring’s Texas race didn't lack excitement, with 29 lead changes among nine drivers. Winkler : OK, you're a tough cookie to crack, Kathy. So I'm pulling out the cranky old man material. I get up early in the morning and need to get on with my day. I don't have time to sit around in a parking lot waiting for these night races. I've got places to go, people to see, yards to mow, important stuff like that. These crazy kids these days getting extra time to get all "juiced up" for these races. I like to hit the ground running in the morning and I'm ready for a good, old-fashioned 1 p.m. ET start. Get 'er done, as they say! Sheldon: George , I'll hand it to you on being a family man. I've worked nights too many years. So I would still rather be hanging out in the parking lot after a race having a sandwich and one last beer (if I'm not driving) while waiting for traffic to thin out at midnight rather than getting up with the sun. Or better yet, camping! I'd say we agree you can't really go wrong when it comes to spending time at the track as a fan, but sign me up for those warm summer nights. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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.