Chase pursuit, Truck Series tussle remain hot topics
RELATED: Provisional Chase grid " Series standings With just one regular-season race left before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is locked in, several pressing questions remain. Before playoff time ramps up in earnest for all three national series, NASCAR.com reporters Kenny Bruce and Zack Albert sat down to discuss a trio of topics before this weekend's events at Richmond International Raceway : Among the drivers who haven't won so far this year, who is your favorite to score a last-minute victory to secure their ticket for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs? Bruce : The veterans on the outside of the Chase haven't run well enough of late to be a threat while the youngsters lack the experience. But give the kids a nod at Richmond, specifically Chase Elliott . He's been in the top five enough this year to handle the pressure of racing for a win with so much on the line. Albert: Here's rating the likelihood fairly low for rampant 11th-hour movement along the Chase cut line, but forced to pick a best-chance ticket puncher, Ryan Newman deserves a look. Granted it's been more than a decade, but Newman has won at Richmond before. Plus, as if the postseason wasn't motivation enough, Wednesday's 15-point penalty for a Darlington infraction should leave the RCR No. 31 bunch with a point to prove Saturday night. How do you rate Chris Buescher 's chances for maintaining his top-30 position in the Sprint Cup points standings and meeting that requirement for Chase eligibility? Bruce : If Buescher goes to Richmond and focuses on running his own race, he'll be fine. If the team gets caught up in focusing on what others are doing, they'll wind up as the only team with a win that's not in the Chase. The key is for the folks on the No. 34 to not beat themselves. Albert: Front Row Motorsports has made an impression with their scrappy nature, and Buescher has provided the underdog No. 34 team with a shot at its first postseason appearance. Only complete catastrophe coupled with an improbable David Ragan top-10 would unravel those hopes. Provided FRM leans on its Roush Fenway Racing affiliation this weekend, Buescher should cruise into the field of 16. Will Sunday's Camping World Truck Series dust-up between Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek have a lasting impact into the Chase? Bruce : It's very likely that Cole Custer 's Chase hopes went up in smoke -- and grass and dirt, etc. -- in the last-lap incident with John Hunter Nemechek this past weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park . With Nemechek already qualified, the likelihood of a forgive-and-forget is slim. Custer's JR Motorsports team is solid enough to win -- or keep someone else from doing so if the situation presents itself. Albert: Nemechek's last-lap mugging at Mosport made such a dramatic impact that not only will Cole Custer race him differently going forward, others in the Camping World Truck Series garage may think twice about giving the youngster the benefit of the doubt on the track. The truck series has already established itself as a solid proving ground for young talent. Sunday's race offered a reminder that it's a launching pad for the NASCAR rivalries of the future, as well.
Bruce : XFINITY Chase intensity ratchets up aggression
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid SPARTA, Ky. -- Was Saturday night's opening Chase race for NASCAR’s XFINITY Series an example of good, hard racing or a case of folks driving over their heads? That depends on who one asked afterward. Race winner Elliott Sadler wasn’t pointing fingers, and race winners have rarely been heard to utter a discouraging word. But the JR Motorsports driver said he did notice an uptick in intensity during the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway . "About halfway through the race, it was 'note to self; you can tell it's the Chase because it was caution after caution after caution," Sadler said afterward. "People were tense, eager, frustrated, nervous. A lot of different things going on with drivers right now ... trying to make it to the second (round). "I think people are giving each other less room. Restarts are crazy in the back." They were crazy up front, too. The race, which kicked off a seven-race, two-round elimination playoff for the series, saw the caution flag fly a track record 12 times. More than one-fourth of the race (64 laps) was run under the yellow. Yes, there was even a brief (5 min., 34 sec.) red-flag period. Erik Jones , the top seed and regular-season leader in race wins, got crossed up while racing with Ty Dillon and both the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ended up in the wall. RELATED: See the wreck the caught two title contenders Each is now outside eighth place in points with two races to try and improve their standing; only the top eight (with the exception of a Chase race winner that might be 9th-12th ) advance to the second round. Not surprisingly, Jones wasn't particularly pleased with the early ending to his night and said later that the aggressive driving does cause one to approach the race differently. "Yeah, it makes me try to stay out of trouble," he said. "I didn't want to have something like that happen. ... You try to play defense some. I was for sure." Of course, there was the matter of a reconfigured track that sports new asphalt and distinctly different turns. That, too, played a role in the difficulties for some. And that was to be expected, said Brendan Gaughan , driver of the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing . "It didn't seem like it was any more aggressive than normal," Gaughan said after finishing sixth. "It's a very narrow race track here right now. That Turn 3 is treacherous, man. There's no grip on the entry, there's no width on the entry. It's a treacherous, treacherous place at the moment. ... "It's still Kentucky. I love it." The fight to advance into the next round began early, but it's not the only battle going on and Saturday night's race brought some of that to light. In addition to the driver's championship, there's an owners title at stake and a couple of teams didn’t forget about that. At the end of the regular season, the No. 2 team of RCR was atop the owners' standings, followed by the No. 18 of Joe Gibbs Racing , the No. 1 of JRM with Sadler behind the wheel, and the No. 22 of Team Penske . Chevy, Toyota, Chevy and Ford. You think those folks aren't paying close attention? RCR brought in Sam Hornish Jr . to keep the No. 2 team in the hunt; Penske handed the reins to Sprint Cup driver Ryan Blaney . Sadler got the win, but a solid fifth-place run by Matt Tifft put the JGR No. 18 atop the owners' standings. JRM (No. 1) now sits second thanks to the victory while Hornish, who finished fourth, kept the RCR entry in the mix -- it's now third. Blaney did not fare badly but the way it all shook out left him third on the track and the team now fifth in the owners' battle. Dover, a fast, unforgiving mile of concrete, is up next. Some folks will be looking to rebound, some looking to continue to ride a hot start. If Kentucky was any indication, they better hope they can just hang on.
Voting for 2016 NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award Opens Sept. 4
RELATED: Cast your vote DARLINGTON, S.C. (Sept. 3, 2016) -- Voting for the National Motorsports Press Association Sprint Most Popular Driver Award will officially open Sunday, Sept. 4. The award, sponsored by Sprint and administered by the NMPA, is the only major NASCAR award determined solely by fan vote. It has been presented annually since 1953. The 2016 voting period will open at 12 a.m. ET Sunday and close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 20. To vote for this year's award, fans can visit www.mostpopulardriver.com through either desktop or the NASCAR MOBILE app. Voting is limited to one vote per person per email address per day. Fans are encouraged to share their votes through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Eligible drivers for this year's award are those who have declared for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. NASCAR Hall of Fame member and 1988 series champion Bill Elliott holds the record for most MPD awards with 16; Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . has won the award for the past 13 seasons. Nineteen drivers have earned MPD honors on one or more occasions since its inception. "The launch of the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award is one of the most anticipated events of the season for many fans," Kenny Bruce , president of the NMPA, said. "NASCAR fans are the most passionate you'll find in any sport and the NMPA considers it an honor to allow them to determine the sport's most popular driver. "We are pleased to present this year's program once again with series sponsor Sprint, whose help and guidance have been invaluable in bringing the Most Popular Driver program to fans." Sprint has been the presenting sponsor of the MPD Award since 2014. The winner of this year's award will be announced during the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards program on Friday, Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. NBCSN will air the post-season program beginning at 9 p.m. ET. MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR will carry the awards show live. A $10,000 donation will be made to the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver's charity of choice on behalf of the NMPA. NMPA MOST POPULAR DRIVER AWARD Year – Recipient 2015 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2014 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2013 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2012 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2011 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2010 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2009 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2008 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2007 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2006 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2005 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2004 – Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2003 - Dale Earnhardt Jr . 2002 - Bill Elliott 2001 - Dale Earnhardt 2000 - Bill Elliott 1999 - Bill Elliott 1998 - Bill Elliott 1997 - Bill Elliott 1996 - Bill Elliott 1995 - Bill Elliott 1994 - Bill Elliott 1993 - Bill Elliott 1992 - Bill Elliott 1991 - Bill Elliott 1990 - Darrell Waltrip 1989 - Darrell Waltrip 1988 - Bill Elliott 1987 - Bill Elliott 1986 - Bill Elliott 1985 - Bill Elliott 1984 - Bill Elliott 1983 - Bobby Allison 1982 - Bobby Allison 1981 - Bobby Allison 1980 - David Pearson 1979 - David Pearson 1978 - Richard Petty 1977 - Richard Petty 1976 - Richard Petty 1975 - Richard Petty 1974 - Richard Petty 1973 - Bobby Allison 1972 - Bobby Allison 1971 - Bobby Allison 1970 - Richard Petty 1969 - Bobby Isaac 1968 - Richard Petty 1967 - Cale Yarborough 1966 - Darel Dieringer 1965 - Fred Lorenzen 1964 - Richard Petty 1963 - Fred Lorenzen 1962 - Richard Petty 1961 - Joe Weatherly 1960 - Rex White 1959 - Jack Smith 1958 - Glen Wood 1957 - Fireball Roberts 1956 - Curtis Turner 1955 - Tim Flock 1954 - Lee Petty 1953 - Lee Petty
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 !
Can RCR stay on top at the Tricky Triangle?
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield and Kenny Bruce talk about Richard Childress Racing's success at Pocono Raceway and how Jeff Gordon will do with the No.88 team the second time around.
Key takeaways from Pocono
Kenny Bruce breaks down the key takeaways from the NASCAR action at Pocono
First-time winner Clampitt takes New Hampshire
Logan Clampitt (High Performance Motorsports) visited Victory Lane for the first time in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, holding off championship contenders Ray Alfalla (Slip Angle Motorsports) and PJ Stergios (ineX Racing) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Brad Davies came home behind Alfalla and Stergios, with Ryan Lowe rounding out the top five. Clampitt used pit strategy to take the lead after a round of green-flag pit stops late in the race and never looked back. He showed impressive poise for a rookie on a pair of late-race restarts, maintaining the lead as chaos erupted behind him. Stergios started on pole but outside polesitter Nick Ottinger had the fastest car on the first run and moved into the lead on Lap 12. Ottinger began building a gap that grew to nearly 1.5 seconds before the first caution flag flew on Lap 23, drawing the leaders to pit road. The leaders all took four fresh tires and Ottinger won the race off pit road, barely beating Stergios who restarted in second. On the next run, Alfalla moved to second and kept pace with Ottinger as Stergios fell to fourth behind Josh Berry . The four would run in this order until the third caution flew on Lap 52 for Chris Overland's spin. Ottinger once again kept the lead on pit road and looked to run away from the field when the green flag flew. This time, however, Ottinger had company at the front as Alfalla showed he could keep pace as the run wore on. On Lap 92 Alfalla made his move on the bottom and drew alongside Ottinger through Turns 3 and 4 but could not complete the pass as he lost drive off the corner on the flatter bottom groove. For the next nine laps Alfalla hounded the race leader, diving to the inside on multiple occasions without success. Finally, on Lap 101, Alfalla got a strong run off Turn 2 and completed the pass entering Turn 3. The lead awarded Alfalla with an important bonus point, but green flag pit stops loomed. Clampitt pitted a couple laps before the race leaders and the strategy paid off as he inherited the lead with 30 laps to go once the pit cycle completed. Alfalla was closing with his fresher tires, but Timmy Hill 's spin with 18 to go brought the leaders to pit road and set up the dash to the finish. Alfalla maintains the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze championship lead into the series finale thanks to his runner-up finish. He gained one point on Stergios and holds a slim five-point lead. Disaster nearly struck Stergios with 10 laps to go when Mitchell Hunt crashed off Turn 2, slamming into Stergios' door in the process. Somehow, Stergios continued on despite the damage and kept pace well enough to score a strong finish. Jake Stergios appears relatively safe in third place, 104 points back of Alfalla and 22 points ahead of fourth-place driver Overland. Overland is in the middle of a points battle of his own as Dylan Duval (The TEAM) is now only two points behind after Overland's troubles left him in 31st. The battle for the back end of the top five will likely be decided between the two as Kenny Humpe is 27 points back of Duval after experiencing Internet troubles. With only one race remaining, all eyes will be on Alfalla and Stergios as the twosome head to Homestead-Miami Speedway in search of a NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series title title. Stergios is looking for his first championship while Alfalla is hoping to win his third after finishing runner-up the past three seasons. A five-point margin gives Alfalla the advantage, but if Stergios can get out to an early lead the pressure will be squarely on Alfalla. Who will take home the crown? Be sure to tune into iRacing Live in two weeks to see the conclusion of the 2016 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series from Homestead!
The Climb: Can two favorites rebound in Pocono?
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield and Kenny Bruce make their picks on who they think can climb their way through the field in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Key takeaways from Indianapolis
Kenny Bruce offers the key takeaways from the Sprint Cup action at Indianapolis
Bruce : Toyota the Chase favorites? Absolutely
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. RICHMOND, Va. -- It began as a Toyota blowout and ended in pretty much the same fashion. Not that there weren't some bumps in the road -- or in this case, Richmond International Raceway -- along the way. But they were few and far between. Denny Hamlin , the winner when the season began back in February in Daytona, closed the door on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season with a victory in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 . It was Hamlin's third win of the season, the 11th for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization and the 13th for Toyota. No need to pencil the Joe Gibbs gang in as favorites in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup . Write it in ink. Joe Gibbs Racing . Chase favorites. Doesn't mean a JGR driver, or even a Toyota team -- let's not overlook Martin Truex Jr . and the Furniture Row Racing group -- will waltz away with the title a little more than two months from now. NASCAR races are often strange affairs filled with strange occurrences. Such was the case Saturday night. Toyota teams led 197 of the first 200 laps and 385 of the 407 that made up the extended 400-lap event. But along the way, particularly in the second half of the race when the air was filled with yellow flags, the start-and-stop nature of the race threatened to turn the event into something completely different. Excessive pit stops meant more tires, but the allotment for each race is finite. Eventually you run out. No one did, fortunately. The racing was physical and no one seemed spared. For those with Chase hopes, however slim, still hanging in the balance, there was no packing it in for the night. Instead it was, fix it fast and get back out there. But in the end, it was a race dominated by Toyotas and that's been the case quite a number of times this year. With only 10 races remaining, can anyone derail the automaker's efforts? "I would say I feel pretty confident in our cars," winning crew chief Mike Wheeler said afterward. "That's a good feeling to have." His own team, he said, has gone into the Chase with the feeling that the No. 11 team could win some races and be competitive. "But you always had this feeling of you can get beat," he said. "If you're not at 100 percent you can get beat. "I feel good now that if we hit 100 percent, we will win. That's something you strive for." JGR fields four teams for drivers Hamlin, defending series champion Kyle Busch , 2003 champ Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards . Toss in Truex and Furniture Row as well. "We share notes. We work together," Wheeler said. "We do the best we can for not only Joe Gibbs Racing but Toyota." But as JGR owner Joe Gibbs noted, Wheeler said, "All it takes is a flat tire or a crash and you're out." That's the new nature of the Chase, where elimination rounds trim the 16-team field by a quarter after every three races. One problem, and a season's over. Ten races from now, someone will be crowned 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Someone who avoids the unavoidable and doesn't beat themselves. "I think the other cars that are out there, there's so many … well‑prepared cars, I think this is going to be a battle," Gibbs said. "I think … there's no way that you can I think pick a favorite right now because it's really three‑race playoffs (to get to Homestead and the championship round)." Hamlin has fallen by the wayside before, and so, too, has Busch. "You can't afford a bad race," Gibbs said. "Our playoff is one where you got to be consistent, but also you got to be on your game and racing extremely hard. I don't think there is a favorite right now. I think everybody that's in there is going to have a shot." Folks thought that going into Richmond, too. Until Hamlin and Gibbs and Toyota proved 'em all wrong.