Chase by the Numbers: Martinsville
As drivers head into the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, here are some statistics to keep in mind at NASCAR's shortest track.
H2H: Chase's Round of 12 set to stir at Charlotte
RELATED: See the Chase Grid Story lines abound, and NASCAR.com's Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup enters the Round of 12 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . 1. What surprised you most from Dover weekend in terms of who advanced in the Chase elimination race and who did not? Cain: I was surprised by the results in several areas, but more so by drivers who did not advance as expected. Like many, I believed Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson would advance well beyond the Round of 16. In fact, I had him in my Championship 4. I do believe he will win another race before the season is over. And perhaps I was being sentimental in expecting Tony Stewart to advance, but I still remember the amazing Chase charge in 2011 and saw the motivation in the three-time champion's eyes after he won at Sonoma this summer. Albert: Austin Dillon 's advancement on the basis of pure consistency didn't send shock waves through the ol' surprise meter, but fate's cruel hand for Chip Ganassi Racing did. To see both Larson and teammate Jamie McMurray ejected from the Chase field at least qualified as a mild stunner. It's a solid dozen that remain, but Dover showed again how exacting this postseason format can be. RELATED: Larson, McMurray ousted from Chase after Dover woes 2. With the points standings reset for the Chase Round of 12, all drivers resume with a clean slate. Are there any incentives you would add to enhance the current format? Cain: A case could be made to give drivers who have won in the Chase a small points bonus in the ensuing round. But the equal reset given to all 12 drivers in the current format certainly increases the drama in a very different way from the Chase start, when regular-season wins are factored in. It's the first time since the Daytona 500 green flag that the top-tier drivers are ranked evenly, and it should make the next three races even more dramatic. Albert: It may not rate highly on the drama scale, but I've always maintained that the top points-earner during the regular season should be rewarded -- nominally if not handsomely. A first-round bye might be a stretch, but a bigger bounty of points would offer a larger incentive for consistent performance over the opening 26 events. Offering bonus points through each elimination round would be an inviting enhancement, but keeping them out of the championship race -- leaving the calculators at home -- has valuable merits. RELATED: Are added incentives for regular-season winners on horizon? 3. Among the remaining 12 Chase drivers, who's your pick to win this weekend at Charlotte and lock in early in the Round of 8? Cain: There's a certain six-time champion who I believe will collect his eighth win at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend. Jimmie Johnson has been close to wins already in the Chase only to fall victim to pit-road miscues -- something uncharacteristic of his Hendrick Motorsports organization. You've got to think that will be cleaned up, and I believe there's no one more motivated to remind naysayers why he is the modern era's very best. Albert: Is there any stopping the Truexpress? Wins in two of the first three Chase races have established the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota as a strong title favorite, and the team returns to the site of Truex's crushing victory in the Coca-Cola 600 in May. Placing former Charlotte winners Kevin Harvick , Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson under the heading of "sleepers" ranks as a testament to Truex's formidable stature this season. Upcoming wild-card races at Talladega and Martinsville have the potential to derail the No. 78's march; don't count on that happening this weekend at Charlotte.
Weekend top picks at the 'paperclip'
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman and Chris Rice give you the top drivers for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Martinsville Speedway.
H2H: Chase tension hits a rapid clip at Martinsville
RELATED: Meet the Chase's final 8 " Martinsville entry list The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs grinds on, with four races to go and one more elimination before the Championship 4 is determined for next month's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . With Talladega Superspeedway behind us and the final three-race series staged and ready for the Sprint Cup Series' return this weekend to Martinsville Speedway , our Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics for the season's homestretch: 1. After a hectic day at Talladega, the Chase's Round of 8 is finally set. Any surprises at who's in, who's out? Cain: I think obviously not having this season's winningest drivers in the final eight is a major upset. I would have expected Martin Truex Jr . and Brad Keselowski to easily advance and frankly felt either might have visited Talladega's Victory Lane, not end their day in the track's garage. The four-car Joe Gibbs Racing sweep into the next round also defies odds, but more power to the team. They will have their hands full, however, with Chevy's Kevin Harvick and a certain six-time series champion, Jimmie Johnson . Albert: Agreed, the omissions of Truex and Keselowski counted as at least mild jolts, but at this phase of the process, there's only so much water that can go into the funnel. All of the final eight drivers have visited Victory Lane at some point this season, with all but one -- Kurt Busch -- making multiple trips. The only thing we're missing is a true underdog (see: winless Ryan Newman in 2014, a much more lightly regarded Truex in 2015), and that also qualifies as a subtle surprise. 2. NASCAR announced rules Wednesday designed to limit Sprint Cup drivers' participation in other national series starting in 2017. What's the net effect? Cain: The obvious upside to this is improved opportunity for up-and-coming drivers to truly show their wares against similar talent as they ascend the NASCAR ladder. More trophies, more winner's checks, more attention. They also will have to showcase their personalities more, however, to keep the story lines interesting in absence of the popular Cup drivers that more naturally fill newsfeeds. This is great opportunity, but it will require great work, too. Albert: Besides the increased opportunity overall, I believe the greatest impact will be felt once the playoffs roll around. With both XFINITY and the Camping World Truck Series just now dabbling in their first ventures into Chase waters, those series now have a greater chance to establish their regular drivers' stardom when it counts -- in the postseason. 3. Four races remain in the championship battle, with Martinsville Speedway next up on the schedule. Whether it's a Chaser aiming for a free pass to the Homestead finale or a non-Chaser hoping to play spoiler, who's your winning pick for the weekend? Cain: This is truly shaping up to be one of the most compelling Martinsville races in a long line of fantastic Martinsville races. Denny Hamlin is buoyed by the dramatic entry into this round of the Chase and has an enviable and proven track record here. But my pick is Jimmie Johnson , who will remind everyone of his massive talent and determination in pursuit of a record-tying seventh Cup in 2016. Albert: Record-tying seventh championship? Sounds like a storybook tale. But how about the chances of a Jeff Gordon sunset-riding repeat of his Martinsville victory in 2015? How about Denny Hamlin finally getting another shot at making good on his childhood promise to Coach Joe Gibbs that he'd drive to a title for him someday? The heart's pick at Martinsville goes with Gordon; the brain's vote takes Hamlin on the tricky sliver of a race track that still packs 'em in.
NASCAR's spotters: Drivers' eyes in the sky and so much more
Editor's note: Above photo of T.J. Majors courtesy of Nigel Kinrade. T.J. Majors and Kevin Hamlin walk from the garage to the spotters' stand at Michigan International Speedway this summer. As they approach the tunnel that goes under the track, a 20-something man shouts "T.J.!" and asks for his autograph. Majors -- arguably NASCAR's most well-known spotter, given that he works for Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- hands what he is carrying to Hamlin ( Kasey Kahne 's spotter) and calls him his secretary, which draws a laughing rebuke of, "Shut up." Now Majors steps off an elevator into a lobby above the track's grandstands and sees fellow spotters sitting on couches and on the floor. He greets them by pointing down the line, "He's cool, he's not cool, he's cool ..." The atmosphere among the two dozen or so spotters gathered in the lobby before a Saturday NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice is like the locker room in a stick-and-ball sport, only thank heavens everybody remains fully clothed the entire time. You can tell how much these guys like each other by how terribly they treat each other. The spotter community is not for the thin of skin or the faint of heart. If you see a snake at your feet, it's probably rubber, and Majors probably threw it there. If the skin around your eyes feel funny, check your binoculars for shoe polish. If you don't walk by and turn the volume on somebody's radio way up at least once in your spotting career, you're doing it wrong. As the banter continues, Tab Boyd, Joey Logano 's spotter, leans over and says, "This is all off the record," which in a journalistic sense is not true because this is a public place. But it doesn't matter anyway, because little of what transpires is repeatable in a "you would not say that in front of your mom" sense.
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 lineup
Kyle Busch will lead off the start of the North Carolina Education Lottery 200
Who will claim victory at NASCAR's shortest track?
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman and Chris Rice pick which drivers have the best chance to win at Martinsville Speedway and clinch their spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Watching bubbles burst in the rearview
NASCAR.com's Chuck Bush recaps the weekend at Talladega that saw bubbles burst and a jack set a land speed record with a winning car.
No changes to over-the -wall pit road crews in 2017
NASCAR has no plans to change the number of pit crew members allowed over the wall for pit stops for the 2017 season. NASCAR continues to work on more than two dozen projects aimed at improving safety, enhancing efficiency and improving competition. It is possible pit stop changes could be considered for 2018 if they meet those criteria, a NASCAR spokesman confirmed. "Pit stops are an important and unique element to our sport," Kurt Culbert, NASCAR Managing Director, Racing Communications, told NASCAR.com "If we think changes in that area will make our races safer, add excitement and/or create efficiencies, we certainly will look at it, but there will be no changes to the composition of the over- the -wall pit road crews for 2017."
Regan Smith evaluates the impact of NXS and NCWTS participation rules
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Regan Smith evaluates the new participation rules for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series that will take effect starting in the 2017 season.