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Chase to Sprint Cup championship begins today

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Sprint Cup cars hit the track today at Chicagoland Speedway, beginning the quest for 16 teams for the series title.

Four drivers will be eliminated after each three-race round, leaving only four drivers to vie for the title in Miami in November.

Here’s a look at those drivers and teams going for the championship.

Kyle Busch

Points: 2012

Wins: 4 (Martinsville I, Texas I, Kansas I, Indianapolis)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 10.0

Recent Chase history: 2015 champion. Eliminated in 2nd round in 2014

Notable: Has led more laps (1,244) than any other driver this season.

Crew chief: Adam Stevens (2nd Chase)

Pit crew: Josh Leslie (front tire changer), Brad Donaghy (front tire carrier), TJ Ford (jackman), Jake Seminara (rear tire changer), Kenny Barber (rear tire carrier), Tom Lampe (gas man).

Brad Keselowski

Points: 2012

Wins: 4 (Las Vegas, Talladega I, Daytona II, Kentucky)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 11.1

Recent Chase history: Missed championship round by 13 points in 2015. Missed championship round by eight points in 2014.

Notable: Has completed 99.32 percent of the 7,375 laps run this season, best among all drivers this season.

Crew chief: Paul Wolfe (5th Chase)

Pit crew: Hunter Masling (front tire changer), Jeremy Ogles (front tire carrier), Braxton Brannon (jackman), Kyle Power (rear tire changer), Tyler Mitchell (rear tire carrier), Nick Hensley (gas man)

Denny Hamlin

Points: 2009

Wins: 3 (Daytona 500, Watkins Glen, Richmond II)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 17.8

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in second round in 2015. Made it to championship round in 2014.

Notable: Has eight consecutive top-10 finishes, the longest streak in his career.

Crew chief: Mike Wheeler (1st Chase)

Pit crew: Dustin Necaise (front tire changer), Brandon Pegram (front tire carrier), Nate Bolling (jackman), Mike Hicks (rear tire changer), Heath Cherry (rear tire carrier), Caleb Hurd (gas man)

Kevin Harvick

Points: 2006

Wins: 2 Phoenix I, Bristol II)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 8.3

Recent Chase history: Reached championship race in 2015, finishing second. Won 2014 series title.

Notable: Has won twice in Chase when he had to do so to advance (Phoenix 2014 to make the final and Dover 2015 to advance to second round).

Crew chief: Rodney Childers (3rd Chase)

Pit crew: Eric Maycroft (front tire changer), Matt Holzbaur (front tire carrier), Stan Doolittle (jackman), Daniel Smith (rear tire changer), Mike Morneau (rear tire carrier), Justin White (gas man)

Carl Edwards

Points: 2006

Wins: 2 (Bristol I, Richmond I)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 15.9

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in the third round in 2015, missing championship round by five points. Eliminated in third round in 2014.

Notable: Last win in the Chase when he was eligible for the title was in 2010.

Crew chief: Dave Rogers (6th Chase)

Pit crew: Clay Robinson (front tire changer), Kevin Harris (front tire carrier), Trey Burklin (jackman), Kip Wolfmeir (rear tire changer), Matt Ver Meer (rear tire carrier), Kenneth Purcell (gas man)

Martin Truex Jr.

Points: 2006

Wins: 2 (Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 11.4

Recent Chase history: Made it to the final round in 2015, finishing fourth.

Notable: Homestead-Miami Speedway is his best track with an average finish of 10.2.

Crew chief: Cole Pearn (2nd Chase)

Pit crew: Chris Taylor (front tire changer), Chris Hall (front tire carrier), Bailey Walker (jackman), Lee Cunningham (rear tire changer), Adam Mosher (rear tire carrier), Brian Dheel (gas man)

Matt Kenseth

Points: 2006

Wins: 2 (Dover I, New Hampshire I)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 8.6

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in second round of 2015 Chase and later suspended two races for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville. Eliminated in the third round in 2014.

Notable: Scored 271 points this season at the eight tracks that host Chase races, second only to Kevin Harvick’s total of 272 points.

Crew chief: Jason Ratcliff (4th Chase)

Pit crew: David Mayo (front tire changer), Joe Crossen (front tire carrier), David O’Dell (jackman), Adam Hartman (rear tire changer), Blake Haugland (rear tire carrier), John Eicher (gas man)

Jimmie Johnson

Points: 2006

Wins: 2 (Atlanta, Auto Club Speedway)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 12.9

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in the first round of 2015 Chase. Eliminated in the second round of the 2014 Chase.

Notable: Has won 22.0 percent of the Chase races when he was eligible for the championship. His last such Chase win, though, came in 2013. He had a win each in the 2014 and ’15 playoffs after he had been eliminated from title contention.

Crew chief: Chad Knaus (13th Chase)

Pit crew: Kevin Novak (front tire changer), R.J. Barnette (front tire carrier), Kyle Tudor (jackman), Calvin Teague (rear tire changer), Ryan Patton (rear tire carrier), Brandon Harder (gas man)

JOEY LOGANO

Points: 2003

Wins: 1 (Michigan I)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 16.1

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in third round in 2015 Chase, unable to recover after being wrecked by Matt Kenseth at Martinsville. Made the championship round in 2014.

Notable: Has top-10 finishes in 12 of the last 14 races.

Crew chief: Todd Gordon (4th Chase)

Pit crew: Thomas Hatcher (front tire changer), Dylan Dowell (front tire carrier), Ray Gallahan (jackman), Zach Price (rear tire changer), Josh Chaney (rear tire carrier), Kellen Mills (gas man)

Kyle Larson

Points: 2003

Wins: 1 (Michigan II)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 15.6

Recent Chase history: First Chase appearance

Notable: In five of the last seven races, he’s finished better than his average running position throughout the event, showing an ability to gain positions late in a race.

Crew chief: Chad Johnston (2nd Chase)

Pit crew: Steven Price (front tire changer), Aaron Schields (front tire carrier), Graham Molatch (jackman), Steven Tautges (rear tire changer), Art Simmons (rear tire carrier), Ed Watkins (gas man)

Tony Stewart

Points: 2003

Wins: 1 (Sonoma)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 15.6

Recent Chase history: First time competing in elimination-style Chase.

Notable: Ranks second on all-time Chase wins list with 11.

Crew chief: Mike Bugarewicz (1st Chase)

Pit crew: Ira Jo Hussey (front tire changer), Brett Morrell (front tire carrier), Getty Cavitt (jackman), Chris McMullen (rear tire changer), Josh Sobecki (rear tire carrier), James Keener (gas man)

Kurt Busch

Points: 2003

Wins: 1 (Pocono I)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 9.0

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in the third round of 2015 Chase. Eliminated in the first round of the 2014 Chase.

Notable: Has the best average finish at the 1.5-mile tracks this season — 5.8 with three top-five finishes. Half of the 10 Chase races are at 1.5-mile tracks.

Crew chief: Tony Gibson (4th Chase)

Pit crew: Shane Pipala (front tire changer), Jon Bernal (front tire carrier), Sean Cotten (jackman), Coleman Dollarhide (rear tire changer), Dwayne Moore (rear tire carrier), Rick Pigeon (gas man)

Chris Buescher

Points: 2003

Wins: 1 (Pocono II)

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 29.5

Recent Chase history: First Chase appearance

Notable: First Chase appearance for Front Row Motorsports.

Crew chief: Bob Osborne (7th Chase)

Pit crew: Justin Rolfe (front tire changer), Kevin Richardson (front tire carrier), Richie Williams (jackman), Raphael Diaz (rear tire changer), Justin Kirby (rear tire carrier), Brett Reckert (gas man)

Chase Elliott

Points: 2000

Wins: 0

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 11.5

Recent Chase history: First Chase appearance

Notable: Crew chief Alan Gustafson has gone to the Chase with four different drivers. He had five Chase appearances with Jeff Gordon, two with Kyle Busch, one with Mark Martin and now one with Chase Elliott.

Crew chief: Alan Gustafson (9th Chase)

Pit crew: Nick O’Dell (front tire changer), Dion Williams (front tire carrier), John Gianninoto (jackman), Chad Avrit (rear tire changer), Jared Erspamer (rear tire carrier), Travis Gordon (gas man)

Austin Dillon

Points: 2000

Wins: 0

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 12.4

Recent Chase history: First Chase appearance

Notable: This is crew chief Slugger Labbe’s second Chase appearance. His first was in 2005 with Jeremy Mayfield.

Crew chief: Slugger Labbe (2nd Chase)

Pit crew: Jason Pulver (front tire changer), Josh Shipplett (front tire carrier), Adam Lewis (jackman), Brian Bottlemy (rear tire changer), Brad Robison (rear tire carrier), Tyler Rader (gas man)

Jamie McMurray

Points: 2000

Wins: 0

Avg. finish at Chase tracks this year: 16.0

Recent Chase history: Eliminated in the first round of the 2015 Chase on a tiebreaker.

Notable: Has three wins during the Chase (none when he was eligible for the championship) and those wins came at tracks in the second round, Charlotte and Talladega.

Crew chief: Matt McCall (2nd Chase)

Pit crew: Danny Kincaid (front tire changer), Ben Fetzer (front tire carrier), Shane Wilson (jackman), Mike Roberts (rear tire changer), PJ Briody (rear tire carrier), Mike Metcalf (gas man)

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

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What’s next?

In a season of change that has zoomed through NASCAR like history did in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 100 days remain in the year. That’s plenty of time for more upheaval.

Remember the beginning of the season when talk centered on the championship race moving to Phoenix Raceway this year?

That was back when teams practiced and qualified before races, before drivers chose what lane to restart, before midweek races.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced NASCAR and all sports to change, but when NASCAR returned after a 10-week break in May to Darlington without spectators, that was only the beginning of a season unlike any other.

Michael Jordan’s entry into the sport Monday night capped a day that started with Chip Ganassi hiring Ross Chastain to drive its No. 42 car next year and a report that NASCAR would add another road course to the 2021 schedule and move the All-Star Race.

The 2021 schedule has not been released so that is something to look forward to at some point in the next 100 days. The timeline on when it will be revealed continues to change, so let’s just say it will be out by Christmas, if not sooner. Who knows, there still might be more road course races on next year’s schedule. 

This is what we know of 2021: It won’t feature the Next Gen car, which has been delayed to 2022; the Daytona 500 is scheduled to open the season on Valentine’s Day; and Nashville Superspeedway will host Cup cars for the first time in June, the first in a four-year agreement.

Oh, and we also know where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021. He’ll drive for a team co-owned by Jordan and Denny Hamlin. JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty says of the three: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The sport’s quiet rock star, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, is watching his final full-time season — don’t worry he hints that he’ll look to run a few Cup races when his IndyCar schedule allows — end with muted fanfare in front of empty stands or socially distanced crowds.

Hendrick Motorsports has yet to announce who it will add to its driver lineup with Johnson’s departure. That’s just among the unknowns with 100 days left in the year and 145 days until next year’s Daytona 500. Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth have yet to announce plans for next year. The status of Kyle Larson’s return looms over all of them.

One of the bigger questions on the track is if Kyle Busch can win a Cup race this season. He’s won at least one series race in each of the past 15 years, a streak that ranks tied for sixth on the all-time list with Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart.

“It’s really important,” Busch said of the streak. “Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment that we’ve placed on that being able to win a race in 16 consecutive seasons. Hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17 and then to 18 or however many that I’m here.”

Busch came close last weekend at Bristol, the first time that track hosted a playoff race. It was part of the revamped playoff schedule that has Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville as elimination races, NASCAR’s way of ramping the intensity as the season comes to a close.

There weren’t fireworks on the track but the 30,000 fans at Bristol saw a spellbinding battle between Harvick and Busch for the win over the final laps. Harvick prevailed for his ninth win of the season. Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 or more races.

Fans are slowly returning to the track, although there won’t be any at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Charlotte Motor Speedway found out Tuesday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will permit outdoor arenas with seating capacity of more than 10,000 to be filled to 7% capacity. Charlotte races in May were run without fans and the All-Star Race was moved to Bristol in July because Bristol could have fans and Charlotte could not.

Social initiatives, including the banning of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races and tracks, were added this summer.

“Ultimately,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in June, “when we get back to full grandstands, everyone who walks through the gates or on to our property or one of our tracks or where our races are being held will understand that they will not see the Confederate flag.”

That was among the key changes that Jordan said drew him to joining Hamlin as an owner of NASCAR’s newest Cup team.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Jordan’s entrance is significant. But the way this season has gone, a global sports icon joining NASCAR? That’s called Tuesday.

With 100 days left in the year, there’s plenty more change ahead.

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NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

NASCAR Power Rankings
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” said Daugherty, a teammate to Jordan on the University of North Carolina basketball team. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”