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.
H2H: Answering the Chase's biggest questions
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff field is finally complete, setting the stage for a 10-race dash to the finish and the championship glory that awaits Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Story lines abound, and our Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle three pressing topics before the postseason gets underway at Chicagoland. 1. Can anyone stop the Joe Gibbs Racing alliance in the Chase? Cain: There is no denying the strength of the JGR alliance from top to bottom. The question is whether it can sustain this level of performance over the next 10 weeks with a larger bull's-eye on its defending champion back. At this point JGR is favorite. But that's the crazy thing about letting these championships play out. Heart and motivation count, too. Albert : The quintet of JGR-affiliated drivers may look nearly invincible now, but the two-year sample size of the current Chase format has proven to be a petri dish of unpredictability. Team Penske has two drivers -- Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski -- in position to drive a wedge into the Gibbs dominance, but Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet -- already champions in the new playoff system -- have a substantial shot at fending off a Toyota triumph. 2. With a handful of new, young faces making their Chase debuts this season, are we witnessing a changing of the guard? Cain: With such a talented group of young drivers in the series, their participating in the Chase was inevitable. It was simply a matter of "when." Best of all for them -- and the sport -- Kyle Larson , Chase Elliott , Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher have not only earned their way into the Chase mix, they look to be legitimate players. The old guard has a big wake-up call and there are other young talents who may well join this mix next year. All good signs for the sport and the fans. Albert : The influx of Chase newbies this year would suggest the opening stages of an overhaul to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster. It's refreshing, a dash of blossoming names alongside the familiar faces in the playoff brackets. Now the challenge is for the youth movement to make deep dives into the postseason, rather than go quietly in the Chase's early rounds. 3. Who's your best bet for a Chase surprise? Cain: I don't know that Kyle Larson and his talent is a surprise to anyone. But, he is peaking at the right time of the season and has an envious track record at the upcoming Chase venues. And just for good measure, his Chip Ganassi Racing team knows a little about winning racing championships, too. Albert : This is going to sound odd to talk about a driver with six championships to his credit and multiple wins this season as a surprise candidate, but Jimmie Johnson 's current 21-race dry spell equals the longest of his Sprint Cup career. Is there a charge left in the No. 48 camp? Time will tell, but it's still difficult to discount a group that has turned up the boost again and again come playoff time. A record-tying seventh title for Johnson remains a real possibility.
Stewart makes 600th Sprint Cup start count
PHOTOS: Stewart through the years " All of 'Smoke's' wins Three-time champion Tony Stewart made his 600th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start Saturday night, taking the green flag for the final time at Kentucky Speedway -- and he had a memorable showing in the Bluegrass State, notching a fifth-place finish to bolster his position in the Chase Grid. Stewart, 45, started his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet 22nd in the 40-car field for the Quaker State 400. He ranks 24th on NASCAR's all-time starts list, two behind James Hylton and just ahead of active drivers Matt Kenseth (596 starts) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (595). Among active drivers, only part-time veterans Michael Waltrip (10th place at 783 starts) and Bobby Labonte (13th at 728) outrank Stewart. "Smoke" ran in the middle of the pack for most of the evening, but excelled at the end during a late-race strategy call. As drivers pitted late during the final fuel run, crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called for Stewart to save fuel aggressively. His driver complied, as Stewart climbed from just outside the top 15 to a fifth-place finish, behind teammate Kurt Busch. It was reminiscent of Stewart's win at Sonoma Raceway in June, when a late-race decision to pit also paid off beautifully. "With the way the first half of this race went, we got in survival mode there and still wanted to race hard, but you didn't want to do anything that was going to jeopardize finishing the race and capitalizing on the misfortune of the guys that are around us in points had," Stewart said. "You are not really going to race anywhere else the rest of the year like this, so I don't think it's an indication of what our season is going to be like, but we ran anywhere from 11th to 22nd, pretty much just stayed in that range all day (until the end)." Stewart's previous best finish on the 1.5-mile track was 11th, achieved in 2014. Zack Albert contributed to this report &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
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 !
H2H: Tackling three key questions on Gordon, Junior
PHOTOS: Big-name drivers in No. 88 " Junior through the years For at least the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, starting this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon will be behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. The high-profile changing of seats prompts several questions -- for the recovering Earnhardt Jr., the returning Jeff Gordon and the No. 88 team itself. NASCAR.com reporters Holly Cain and Zack Albert tackle a handful of these questions in a quick reporter roundtable. 1. Will Dale Jr. still make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs? HC: Of course, this depends on the length of time doctors would like Earnhardt to heal. But should he return in two weeks' time, I still think it's absolutely a good bet he makes the Chase, perhaps even wins a race. He's won seven races in the last two seasons. And he has five wins at tracks that would still be on the schedule to set the Chase field -- a pair at Michigan and three victories at the regular-season finale venue, Richmond. ZA: Getting healthy -- not even necessarily for a return to NASCAR, but in general -- remains the overall priority for Earnhardt Jr., but the team must press on regardless of who is in the driver's seat. A two-week absence will drop Earnhardt from the 16-driver provisional Chase grid, placing urgency on winning when he potentially returns. The almost certain granting of a Chase eligibility waiver from NASCAR competition officials should guarantee that the opportunity exists. But should his absence last longer, the thought of shelving this season in favor of a full-fledged 2017 return may make the most sense. 2. What do we expect from Jeff Gordon ? HC: Frankly, how could our expectations be too high here? Especially at Indy, where Gordon is the all-time winningest driver with five trophies. He is the dream substitute -- a pillar of the Hendrick Motorsports organization, fresh off a Chase final-four season and trackside all year in his role as a FOX Sports race analyst. Earnhardt's Chevrolet will be in good hands. The biggest issue may only be making sure Gordon doesn't pull into Chase Elliott 's No. 24 pit stall. ZA: This isn't exactly Michael Jordan puttering around in a Washington Wizards jersey. Half a season off doesn't exactly allow for the accumulation of rust, especially when considering that Gordon, one of the sport's all-time greats, retired from full-time competition at the height of his game. The expectation is for Gordon to be sharp as ever. The results are anyone's guess. 3. What does this do for both drivers' legacies? HC: Even should Gordon pull off an amazing victory in Earnhardt's car this week at Indy or next at Pocono, the four-time Cup champ's legacy is already NASCAR Hall of Fame bound. For Earnhardt, getting out of the car and setting a standard in the sport's concussion treatment will be as important a legacy as his two Daytona 500 victories and 24 other Cup wins. He is the sport's reigning superstar and his responsible and inspiring actions only increase his stature. And that's saying something! ZA: Jeff Gordon 's legacy in the sport is already secure in quick-drying cement. His comeback's only possible augmentations (and they'd be nominal boosts to his already transcendent portfolio) would be another victory or reaching the 800-starts plateau, a mere three appearances away. Earnhardt Jr.'s legacy -- and popularity -- may only grow as he continues to lead the charge in the research of sport-related brain trauma. That contribution to stock-car racing is far greater than any possible unchecked boxes on his career list of on-track accomplishments. </p>
Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
RCR reveals Darlington throwback schemes
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes WELCOME, N.C. -- It seemed almost appropriate that on the day that Richard Childress Racing unveiled its retro paint schemes for this year's throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway , one of the team's drivers would arrive in a "Dukes of Hazzard" Dodge Charger. Ryan Newman said his vehicle choice wasn't an intentional nod to the historic track's nostalgia movement. "My truck is hauling hay right now," Newman said. "It was basically the only thing I had that I could take my kid to school with that had a car seat in it and then drive here and get here pretty quick." Sure enough, the bright orange No. 01 General Lee was equipped with a child seat, something that Bo and Luke Duke never really had during the television show's seven-season run. Newman's version, however, made for a popular addition to the carpool lane. "There's quite a few pictures that get taken at that school," Newman said. "You'd be surprised." Cameras were front and center Wednesday morning at Childress' shop, capturing images of Newman and teammate Austin Dillon driving up in eye-catching cars with overtures to the organization's rich NASCAR pedigree. Newman's No. 31 Chevrolet will carry period-style Caterpillar logos for the Bojangles' Southern 500 at the historic South Carolina track, and Dillon's No. 3 Chevy will be trimmed out in American Ethanol livery evocative of the Piedmont Airlines scheme that adorned RCR's flagship car for its first victory back in 1983. Ricky Rudd, RCR's driver at the time, was in attendance Wednesday at the organization's sprawling campus, helping Childress spin tales of when the operation had just four full-time employees and cashed checks for as little as $200 in contingency prize money. Today, the payroll number tops 500 and the winner's purse has more zeros on the checks. . @RCRracing paint schemes for @TooToughToTame revealed. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/uGuJBOjW3j — Zack Albert (@zack_albert) May 11, 2016 . @austindillon3 & @RyanJNewman with their @RCRracing rides for @TooToughToTame . #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/T3tsZ6dK94 — Zack Albert (@zack_albert) May 11, 2016 Besides the heritage colors and logos, Childress' design team also captured the spirit of the team's early 1980s growth through typefaces. Both cars unveiled Wednesday will feature numerals from the time period before Dale Earnhardt made RCR's stylized No. 3 famous. "I think we just tried to play within the years that Darlington gave us," Dillon said, referring to the track's focus on the 1975-84 era for its Labor Day classic, "and I think there's no better way than to celebrate RCR's first win with this scheme. American Ethanol allowing us to do it, Ricky Rudd coming today -- that was really cool and special just talking to him and hearing a little bit of what was going on back in the day and how RCR's grown." Few teams invested more into the NASCAR throwback initiative's debut last year that Richard Childress Racing . All three of its teams turned back the clock not only with paint schemes, but also with their garage attire, which featured ringer T-shirts, white work pants and red Converse Chuck Taylors to round out the look of the No. 3 crew. Wednesday's program re-positioned RCR as an active participant for Darlington's retro encore, with the No. 27 Chevrolet's look for driver Paul Menard to be revealed at a later date. "It's a lot of different connections that tie in together into one weekend," Newman said. "I'm a big, as I think you guys know, fan of the history of our sport and it's pretty cool to see the way it all came together last year. I'm even more excited to see what's going to pop up this year." So is Chip Wile, who has left a compelling legacy of embracing stock-car racing tradition during his nearly three-year run as Darlington Raceway track president. Wile, in his second week as the newly tapped president of Daytona International Speedway , took in Wednesday's unveiling with a contingent from NASCAR's first superspeedway. Wile said Darlington's communications team had continual contact with its stakeholders before last year's first throwback weekend, almost needing to sell the concept to teams and sponsors alike. "Now that we've had a year under our belts and people have actually seen it, it's a heck of a lot easier to have these conversations," Wile said. " Richard Childress Racing , since Day 1 since we came to visit them at the end of 2014, they said, 'We're in.' They along with Stewart-Haas and a number of others have really helped champion this program for us." MORE: See the 2015 Darlington throwback schemes
NASCAR.com's 2016 Daytona 500 predictions
Going into 2016's season opener, members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make predictions for who will head to Victory Lane for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Restrictor-plate racing is often finicky, but it's hard to go against a proven Daytona-winning driver with a stout car that goes where he points it. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr .: As much as I'd like to see a surprise winner, inside information tells me it's Dale Jr.'s to lose. Holly Cain Denny Hamlin : He is overdue in this race, at a place he races so expertly. Pat DeCola Kyle Busch : 'Rowdy' will start 2016 the way he closed out 2015 -- on top. His dominant showing in the second Can-Am Duel was no fluke, and he'll pick up his second win of Speedweeks on Sunday. RJ Kraft Denny Hamlin : Hard to pick against Dale Jr., but I will. Hamlin has had the speed during Speedweeks, won the Sprint Unlimited and has four straight top-six finishes at Daytona. Hamlin will snap JGR's 23-year drought in the Daytona 500 and give Toyota its first win in the "Great American Race." Maggie MacKenzie Joey Logano : The talk at the track has Dale Jr. and his "Amelia" car winning, but the 2015 Daytona 500 champ shouldn't be forgotten. Logano's been posting top speeds all week as he continues the strong momentum from his dominant '15 season. Brad Norman Joey Logano : "Sliced Bread" becomes the first back-to-back Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin (1994-95), overpowering those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and, yes, even race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr . Jessica Ruffin Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Having won half of the speedway races last season, Junior's always a top pick heading into a plate event. Tack on his Duel win Thursday and his love for his car, and you've got a recipe for Victory Lane. Taylor Starer Kyle Busch : Coming off the high of being the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch is ready to add another accomplishment to his resume: a Daytona 500 win. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have all looked strong during Speedweeks, but Busch will be the one who brings Toyota its first "Great American Race" victory. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : Amelia's a great car, but the No. 22 almost had something for Dale Jr.'s speedy ride in the Can-Am Duels. Something crazy always happens at Daytona, and the defending winner looks like he can sneak through the trouble spots again. George Winkler Ryan Blaney : Let's pick the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to pull off the upset for the Wood Brothers. Fellow Fords in the Team Penske camp can give him the push he needs to make like Trevor Bayne and shock the world.
Roundtable: Forecasting who will take the title
Panel of experts debates the hot topics in NASCAR RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota 1. After 35 races, nine Chase battles and three rounds of elimination, we're down to just four drivers battling it out for the championship. Gentlemen, in the succinct words of Mr. Albert , "Who ya' got?" Zack Albert : Without trying to overthink, I'm going with Kevin Harvick just based on how solid his team's performance has been, everywhere they've unloaded. Alan Cavanna: I'm sticking with my pick from the NASCAR.com Preview Show . Joey Logano is winning the championship on Sunday. Kenny Bruce: If I were wagering, and just for the record I'm not (yet), I'd go against Kevin Harvick , the favorite of most folks, simply because I like to bet the upsets. I'd go with Ryan Newman , who said Wednesday that it's not a big deal, he only has to beat three other guys right? Who also happen to be among the best in the series. The smart money is on Harvick, though, and I think it's his to lose. I think Joey Logano is equally strong, but Harvick's riding a dominant Phoenix victory, so that's got to be worth something. Don't want to dismiss Denny Hamlin , but I think he and Newman will need the race of a lifetime, or troubles for Logano/Harvick, to walk off with the title. Cavanna: Harvick is the safe pick. He's got all the speed and performance. But I'm thinking yellow flags and restarts toward the end. That's where I think Logano will separate himself from the field. Albert : Nice plug, by the way, Alan. I think Hamlin is a strong second favorite -- he prevailed here last season and has had a rock-solid pit crew all year long. Cavanna: I've heard strong cases for everyone but Newman this week. And Newman's made it clear he doesn't really care what everyone else is saying. Bruce: Hamlin's pit crew has certainly gained him plenty of track position this year, Zack . But I think the rule changes in the offseason pretty much negated any success, or problems, teams had here in the past. 2. Now that we've nearly completed the first Chase under the new guidelines, what, if anything, would you change about the format for 2015? Albert : This is above my pay grade, but given the keys to the postseason system, I'd like to see the rotation of tracks shaken up a bit. Probably still best that we're in the warm-weather climes of sunny South Florida for the finale, but I'd be open to shifting up the 10 races. Bruce: As much as I agree with those who think one season is too soon to start tinkering, I do have an opinion. Of course. I like the win and you're in, then win and you advance aspects. I like that points can keep you going, too. A nice mix. My biggest issue with the format? I think the "must be in top 30 in points to be eligible" is way, way, way too loose. Who fights for 30th place? Who even runs back there? Make it top 20 for those with or without wins. There are usually some pretty decent teams battling around that neck of the woods and I think it would put a little pressure on those teams to step it up. As it stands, you can just show up and be in the top 30. Cavanna: I'd love to see some sort of reward for winning during the Chase that comes into play during Homestead. I fully understand why the rules are the way they are. "Make everyone equal, first one to the finish is the champ," no doing math during the race. BUT, fans are able to deal with that stuff the rest of the year. I think they can handle it during the finale. Harvick and Logano won in the playoff, and while they've been rewarded handsomely, they should be separated from Newman and Hamlin if only by a point or two Bruce: I like your thinking, Alan. Maybe if a Chase driver wins a Chase race, he is locked in final? That would give us a heck of a field. But I haven't thought about the potential problems there. Still ... sounds good on the surface. Cavanna: That's one step further that I thought, Kenny. Not a bad idea. Bruce: I'm putting it in the suggestion box now, Alan. Albert : And is a Chase field of 16 too many or too few? All interesting points, but believe it might be best to let this new format simmer for a while, rather than keep throwing too many tweaks at it in its infancy. Bruce: Agreed, Zack . Pretty easy to say, "Well, you should have done this" after only one year. But who knows how different it might play out in future years if left alone. Cavanna: Good call, Zack . The best thing that can be done is to leave it alone. A change we can all agree on. 3. After Chase drivers dominated the first two rounds, non-Chase drivers took two of the three Eliminator Round wins. Which driver outside the four qualifiers stands the best chance to end the season with a victory? Cavanna: Safe money is on Jimmie Johnson . He and Chad Knaus were down here testing a few weeks ago, said they learned something that helped them dominate Texas. I see it helping here. A not-so-longshot has to be Kyle Larson . This track rewards those who run as wide as possible. That's got Larson written all over it. Bruce: The list of potential winners sure got a lot deeper when we booted Brad Keselowski , Jeff Gordon , Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth to the side last week at Phoenix. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brad or Jeff win this week. If everyone on the outside is still in 2014 mode and not looking ahead to '15, I think Gordon's the guy. I picked him to win the title, missed it there, so I'm hoping to look less wrong with a win by the 24 team. Albert : I'm with you there. Wouldn't be surprised at all to see Keselowski in Victory Lane come Sunday, especially with the Blue Deuce's or White Deuce's (or whichever color is it this week) performance this season on 1.5-mile tracks. Even though they're not in the title hunt, it would be a fairly convincing exclamation point. Cavanna: "Very wrong" is a great way to describe my Chase grid. Bruce: Sounds like a book title: My Very Wrong Chase Grid. We keep mentioning Larson, Alan, and I'm as guilty as anyone. While I think it would be a great story, I think they've leveled off for now. Cavanna: I don't know, guys. This seems like a great environment for someone (cough ... 24) to get some revenge on the (No.) 2 car. Little on the line for those guys now. Bruce: Revenge? Surely not. Maybe NASCAR should have a "payback" race before Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 . The Settle Your Score 150 perhaps? Albert : Or the Eco-Boot, where your rivals are efficiently punted out of the way. Cavanna: Winner gets a spot in the Chase? Ha! Bruce: Maybe someday Alan. But remember, we agreed to leave the Chase unchanged. For now at least. Cavanna: Deal! Bruce: Eco-Boot. Love it Zack . Albert : Where the rivalries have drivers shaking in their Eco-Boots. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
NASCAR.com's Southern 500 predictions
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.