It would take big surprise to change 16-driver Chase field

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Two races remain before the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts, and the 16-driver field is looking solid with little chance of a change.

Four of the five winless drivers seeking to make the Chase via points have at least a 97 percent chance of making it. The sixteenth-ranked driver, Clint Bowyer, is strong at 89 percent.

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Bowyer is 35 points ahead of Aric Almirola and 37 points of Kasey Kahne. It’s doubtful those drivers can pass him on points. Bowyer could finish in the top 20 in the next two races and still be fine. Even if he finishes last at Darlington next week (in a race on NBC), it would take a top-10 finish from Almirola or Kahne to overtake Bowyer .

If Bowyer doesn’t lose on points, then certainly nobody else will. That means the only way for a new Chase driver to pop through is by winning one of the next two races. Kahne has the best chance of a win among the drivers on the outside, but his chances are a slim 7 percent. Besides going winless in 2015, Kahne has only two top-fives, while leading a paltry 46 laps all year. His previous worst year in that category was 2008 when he led 186 laps.

In the case of Kyle Busch, he’s 29th in points but has a strong 46-point cushion over 31st place Cole Whitt. Outside of a 13th-place finish at Talladega, Whitt has not finished in the top 20 all season. Busch could finish last in the next race and still be in the top 30, regardless of whatever everybody else does. Busch could even finish last in BOTH of the next two races and still make it. Technically Busch’s chance is 99.98 percent – but we can be safe in rounding that to a solid 100 percent and call him in. Busch doesn’t need to worry now.

If you consider the overall 16-driver field, there is a whopping 83 percent chance now that none of them will drop out. There is only a 17 percent chance that any new driver will change the current composition of the Chase (through some combination of new winners sneaking in).

With these spots basically locked up, teams should start experimenting now with new setups that might help them when the Chase begins. Even Bowyer, the last man in, should be gambling for a win rather than trying to play it safe.

How the Chase model works

Remember the way a driver qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup:

(1) Must be in the top 30 in points;

(2) Qualify with a race win.

(3) If fewer than 16 drivers meet the first two criteria, the remaining slots are given to winless drivers highest in the points standings.

Andrew Maness (from racing data firm PitRho) and I have a model that simulates the season 100,000 times based on each driver’s performance in 2013-2015. Not surprisingly, Harvick has the highest chance of winning the title. He was last year’s champion and has been consistently strong all year, finishing first or second in almost half the races, with a top 10 in almost every race.

Sign up at nbcsports.com/gridchallenge for a chance to win $16 million.

Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race: Start time, TV channel

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs get underway with the Saturday Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The race is the first of seven to determine the champion.

Chase Briscoe is on the pole after his win last weekend at Bristol

Here is all the info for the Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:38 p.m by Cup driver Bubba Wallace. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:47 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Mackenzie Mackey at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: Coverage begins on NBCSN with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 7 p.m.. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for clear skies with a high of 98 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe beat Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric at Bristol.

LAST RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Chase Briscoe beat Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg for the win in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

Austin Hill
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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Decker provided this update Saturday morning.