Looking ahead: Who could be headed to Chase and who could be disappointed

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With NASCAR halfway to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the pressure builds on drivers who have yet to win and all but secure a chance to race for the title.

There have been nine different winners this season (compared to 10 a year ago), leaving seven spots for the Chase to be determined by points – at this time.

Last year, there were 13 winners when the Chase began, leaving three spots open for those via points. It likely will be about the same this year.

So, as the series heads to Pocono Raceway to begin a stretch of 13 races in 15 weeks, here’s a look at who is in contention for those final Chase spots and the chances they have of making it.

 

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

Chase appearances: 2 (best finish 11th in 2007 & 2012)

Points position: 2nd (ranks first among winless drivers)

Notable performances: Has led the most laps in last three points races but did not win any of those.

Why he’ll make Chase: Clearly has one of the fastest cars and even if he doesn’t win, he should make it via points.

Why he won’t make Chase: He and team decide to take four-week summer vacation and miss a few races. Would have to be that drastic.

 

JAMIE McMURRAY

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 7th (ranks second among winless drivers)

Notable performances: Has an average finish of 9.7 at the seven tracks the series has run that will host a Chase race.

Why he’ll make Chase: It’s amazing that the former Daytona 500, Sprint All-Star and Brickyard 400 winner has not made the Chase in his career. Everything finally goes his way.

Why he won’t make Chase: Can’t afford a number of poor finishes. If only three drivers make the Chase on points as happened last year, he could be teetering on the edge if he doesn’t win a race.

 

KASEY KAHNE

Chase appearances: 5 (best finish 4th in 2012)

Points position: 8th (ranks third among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 4th at Phoenix and Dover.

Why he’ll make Chase: Should score a win to secure a spot. Could come this weekend at Pocono where he won in 2013 and has two top-two finishes in last five starts there.

Why he won’t make Chase: He didn’t win until Atlanta last year – two races before the Chase cutoff. That race moved, so he won’t have that track to bail him out if he doesn’t have a win that late in the season.

 

JEFF GORDON

Chase appearances: 10 (best finish 2nd in 2007)

Points position: 9th (ranks fourth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Bristol. Led 87 laps in Daytona 500 but was collected in last-lap wreck.

Why he’ll make Chase: There could be no worse disappointment than not to make the Chase in his final full season. If things get hairy, the full resources of Hendrick Motorsports will be focused on getting him in the Chase, much like how Kasey Kahne won late to make last year’s Chase.

Why he won’t make Chase: If he has more speeding penalties on pit road at the wrong time. One such penalty likely cost him a shot to win at Martinsville.

 

ARIC ALMIROLA

Chase appearances: 1 (best finish 16th in 2014)

Points position: 10th (ranks fifth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 5th at Dover

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s been steady all season with no finish worse than 26th and only two finishes of 20th or worse. He’s maximizing what the car and team are providing.

Why he won’t make Chase: He’s about two poor finishes from falling too far out of the third spot among winless drivers – the likely cutoff for winless drivers to make the Chase – if he doesn’t score a victory.

 

PAUL MENARD

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 12th (ranks sixth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Talladega and 4th at Auto Club Speedway

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s been steady for much of the season with only one finish worse than 25th. He needs to be even stronger. Has led only one lap this season, so unless something changes, winning will be difficult to achieve.

Why he won’t make Chase: If one can’t lead laps, they can’t win. If he has a couple of bad performances, he likely won’t be able to overcome that to make it via points.

 

RYAN NEWMAN

Chase appearances: 6 (best finish 2nd in 2014)

Points position: 13th (ranks seventh among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Las Vegas and Phoenix

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s doing the same thing as he did last year with consistency. He has eight top-10 finishes this season compared to four at this point a year ago. He’s used to the pressure – just recall his last-lap move on Kyle Larson at Phoenix to make the Chase finale last year.

Why he won’t make Chase: Consistency only gets one so far. It may not be enough this time.

 

CLINT BOWYER

Chase appearances: 5 (best finish 2nd in 2012)

Points position: 17th (ranks eighth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 7th in Daytona 500

Why he’ll make Chase: Likely will have to win to do so.

Why he won’t make Chase: Team hasn’t shown it’s strong enough to challenge for a victory. Has led just two laps this season and has eight finishes of 20th or worse. That won’t cut it if he can’t score a win.

 

DANICA PATRICK

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 18th (ranks ninth among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 7th at Martinsville

Why she’ll make Chase: Will need to win a race somewhere.

Why she won’t make Chase: Hasn’t been in position to win a race. That likely will continue, keeping her out of the Chase.

 

GREG BIFFLE

Chase appearances: 7 (best finish 2nd in 2005)

Points position: 19th (ranks 10th among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 2nd in Coca-Cola 600

Why he’ll make Chase: Nearly stole a win at Charlotte on fuel mileage. If he can do it somewhere else, he’ll be in.

Why he won’t make Chase: While his car showed it was better in the Coca-Cola 600, there’s still a long way to go for Roush Fenway Racing to compete for wins. Until it does so, RFR won’t have a driver in the Chase.

 

KYLE LARSON

Chase appearances: 0

Points position: 20th (ranks 11th among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 3rd at Dover

Why he’ll make Chase: Team picks up performance and matches the potential of this driver in the final 13 races before the Chase field is set.

Why he won’t make Chase: This team has been off at times this season with six finishes of 25th or worse. If that continues, he won’t make the Chase.

 

TONY STEWART

Chase appearances: 8 (won title in Chase format in 2005 & ’11)

Points position: 28th (ranks 19th among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 6th at Bristol

Why he’ll make Chase: Must win. Best bet is Daytona, Bristol or maybe the road courses.

Why he won’t make Chase: Although scoring better finishes lately compared to start of the year, this team has not shown the speed to compete for a win that it must have to make the Chase.

 

KYLE BUSCH

Chase appearances: 7 (best finish 4th in 2013)

Points position: 40th (ranks 31st among winless drivers)

Notable performances: 11th in Coca-Cola 600

Why he’ll make Chase: He’s been fast in his first two races back and put himself in position to have strong finishes until some late issues.

Why he won’t make Chase: Can’t overcome deficit of missing 11 races.

 

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.

Pit crew change for Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson teams

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Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each will have a pit crew change for Saturday night’s playoff race at Bristol.

The change is the result of an injury to one pit crew member.

Dustin Lineback, jackman for Bowman’s team is out with an injury, the team stated. Kyle Tudor, who has been Johnson’s jackman, moves over to that role for Bowman’s team. Eric Ludwig, a backup for Hendrick Motorsports, moves up to be the jackman for Johnson.

MORE: Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast, lineup

Bowman enters the elimination race 27 points ahead of teammate William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the second round. Bowman opened the playoffs by finishing sixth in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He followed that by placing ninth at Richmond. Bowman was collected in a crash and finished 37th in the May Bristol race.

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, seeks his first victory of the season. He finished third at Bristol in May.