NASCAR Nostradamus: Looking ahead to Dover race

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What will happen this weekend when the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is whittled from 16 to 12 drivers after Sunday’s race on NBCSN at Dover International Speedway?

NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan and Dustin Long have their ideas. Here’s what they say.

Who fails to advance to the second round: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

DUSTIN: Kevin Harvick fails to advance. He likely needs to win and it will be difficult to beat Jimmie Johnson at Dover. New Hampshire was Harvick’s chance to advance with a win and he lost it when he ran out of fuel with three laps to go. Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes it and Kyle Busch knocks Jamie McMurray out of a transfer spot.

NATE: Two of the three — Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Harvick will finish better at Dover than Chicagoland and New Hampshire but falls short of the victory. Kyle Busch will outscore Earnhardt to bump past him into the second round. One thing is certain: Barring a Harvick win, it’s virtually improbable that all three will advance. It requires too much trouble for too many good drivers.

Will NASCAR penalize another driver for a restart at Dover?

DUSTIN: No. NASCAR got the attention of many when it penalized Brad Keselowski last week at New Hampshire. Typically, drivers learn their lesson the following week. While I think another title contender will be penalized for jumping a restart in the Chase, I don’t think it will happen at Dover.

NATE: Yes. Dover is prime territory for more restart controversy (Jimmie Johnson’s shot at a win in June 2013 was nullified when he was penalized for jumping the green flag on leader Juan Pablo Montoya), and the stakes will prove too high with this being a transfer race. Brad Keselowski’s punishment last week sent a message, but NASCAR will be tested again.

Rain is in the forecast throughout the weekend at Dover. The track does not have lights, leading to a possible scenario where the race could be shortened by rain. Would it be OK if an elimination race – or the championship final – is shortened by rain?

DUSTIN: Yes. While NASCAR should do everything possible to complete a race, in some cases it won’t be possible. Would it be disappointing and unfulfilling to many fans? Sure, but every competitor will have had the same opportunity. That’s how NASCAR will have to look at it.

NATE: No. But given the forecast, it’s likely NASCAR won’t have the option of starting the race in a window that would preclude reaching full distance. But with the championship essentially being contested across four mini-seasons during the playoffs, it’s no longer tenable to have an incomplete race affect the outcome. The title must reflect the most cumulative results possible.