Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship

Hopes end of advancing in Sprint Cup Chase for Chase Elliott

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With advancement to the Round of 8 on the line, Chase Elliott’s task Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway was plain and simple: He needed to win.

That’s it.

Coming into the race last on the Chase grid and 62 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there was no other way Elliott could move on in the playoffs unless he ended up in victory lane.

As it turned out though, the rookie Sprint Cup driver wound up with a no-win situation, finishing 12th, falling short of the checkered flag and being eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8.

“We just came up short,” Elliott said. “We had a really good car again. You try to make stuff happen, and I felt like we were pretty aggressive trying to get to the bottom and try to make things happen there when it was at the top.

“I just couldn’t find myself in the right spot at the right time with the right folks behind us, or at least enough folks. We had some great pushers all day, and they knew our car was fast. It was helpful. We just came up short.”

Elliott was shuffled back on the final restart and couldn’t mount a last-ditch comeback in the final laps of the extended 192-lap event (original length was 188 laps).

“I don’t know what happened and how we got shuffled out,” Elliott said. “It was just kind of the sequence of events.

“All it takes is one move on someone’s part, and it can take you from the top five and outside the top 10. It doesn’t take much. We just came up a little short.”

Even though he fell short, there were some high points for Elliott. He led nine laps, looked strong early on and ran a very strategic and tactical race.

“We were trying to be as aggressive as we could and try to make stuff happen,” Elliott said. “It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way through the pack.

“It just takes time. There’s definitely a lot of power in numbers. We’re disappointed that we came up short. The NAPA team has been fighting hard the past few weeks. We’ve had some awesome racecars. … We’ll move on to Martinsville and try to go get them.”

Elliott admittedly was disappointed with the outcome but still felt he and his team gave it everything they had.

“We tried hard again this weekend, and we were able to lead some laps and stay up front for a good portion of the race there at the beginning,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t work our way back through there at the right time there at the end.

“It was just a matter of trying to get some power in numbers. Unfortunately we couldn’t get our lane to go when we needed it. By the time things started to happen, everyone was in a big rush. I don’t know what you can do. We’ll just look forward to Martinsville and go get it there.”

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Hamlin leads halfway at Charlotte; Harvick, Logano in garage

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After Saturday’s Bank of America 500 was postponed due to rain, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is back racing under sunny skies Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin is the leader at the halfway point (Lap 167) of the scheduled 334-lap event.

Jimmie Johnson is running second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray. Sixth through 10th are Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Blaney and Matt Kenseth.

Elliott has led the most laps (101).

Chase drivers Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano have suffered significant issues with their cars and gone to the garage for repairs.

Among incidents that occurred during the first 167 laps:

* Pole-sitter Harvick experienced an apparent electrical system issue on Lap 152, losing power. He limped his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to pit road. He has taken his car to the garage.

* Chase driver Joey Logano hit the wall on Lap 116 when his right front tire went down, bringing out a caution. Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford Fusion suffered moderate damage, but he was able to return to the track after pit road repairs were made.

Logano hit the wall again on Lap 152, suffering significant damage.

* Alex Bowman, driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in place of the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., saw his day end early when he wrecked with Casey Mears on Lap 62.

“Blew a tire I guess,” Bowman told NBC. “Really unfortunate, but it’s not anybody’s fault. We didn’t hit nothing. We just must have run over something.”

* Matt Kenseth was forced to start from the back of the field in 40th position after his team made unapproved adjustments to the trackbar mount.

* There have been four cautions for 24 laps.

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Chase Grid: Richmond in rearview mirrror, full steam ahead to Chicagoland

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The final 16-driver field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set.

The field was set after Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Perhaps the biggest news from Richmond is Ryan Newman, who finished second in the 2014 Chase, failed to make this year’s playoff.

Meanwhile, Jamie McMurray drove a methodical and defensive race to assure he locked in the 16th and final berth in the Chase. It’s McMurray’s second time in the Chase; he also qualified for it last year.

Also being able to breathe a sigh of relief was Chris Buescher, who won at Pocono, but had to leave Richmond in the top 30 in the standings to assure he’d make the playoffs.

A total of 13 drivers won a race in the first 26 races (the “regular season”) to qualify for the Chase. The three drivers without a win but still made the Chase on points were Chase ElliottAustin Dillon and Jamie McMurray.

Here’s how this week’s Chase Grid stacks up heading into the playoff opener Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

 

 

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Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray ready to make Chip Ganassi Racing a force in the Chase

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For one, it’s unchartered territory. For the other, it’s hoping that the second time around is better than the first.

That’s how the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup shapes up for Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray.

Larson is making his first playoff appearance. It comes in his third Cup season.

Larson, who won last month at Michigan, will start the Chase as the 10th seed.

McMurray is making the second consecutive Chase appearance. He’ll start the playoffs in the 16th and final position.

Larson has been one of NASCAR’s hottest drivers of late. Saturday night’s runner-up finish at Richmond International Raceway was his third straight top-three finish — He won at Michigan and finished third at Darlington.

It wasn’t easy, though. Larson struggled near the midpoint of the race with a loose wheel that caused him to pit on Lap 192. Still, he was able to come back for his best finish at Richmond.

The final restart, though, with two laps remaining was what sealed the deal for the northern California native.

“It felt like a video game on rookie mode, having fresh tires like that,” Larson told NBCSN. “It was a fun last restart and to get all the way to second. I felt I could get to fourth, but I got to second, so that was great.”

Given his hot streak, Larson hopes to ride into the opening race next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and keep that momentum going as the Chase opens.

“The Chase tracks, most of them, are good tracks for me,” Larson said. “We start at Chicago, which is one of my favorite tracks and I really think we can make a good run.

“It’s been awesome and I’m looking forward to it, the first time in the Chase. There’s a lot of new guys in the Chase, so it should be exciting.”

McMurray, meanwhile, hopes to perform better in his second Chase than he did last season.

Like Larson, McMurray has had his own momentum of late, as well: His seventh-place finish Saturday was his ninth top-10 of 2016, including four of the last five races.

McMurray knew how much was on the line coming into Saturday’s race. Because he has yet to win a race this season, he was vulnerable. If a winless driver had won instead of Hamlin, McMurray could have missed the playoffs.

So he did something he typically doesn’t do — he drove defensively.

“I was racing so different than what you normally would, not taking any risk,” McMurray said. “Really good day, both our cars ran real great again today.

“The guys at our shop need to be really proud at what they have been able to build because it’s a lot of fun to drive and be able to run that quick. I looked up at one point and I think there was the four Gibbs cars and Kyle and I. We still have a little bit of work to do, but we’ve made some huge gains and I’m really proud of all those guys.”

McMurray was eliminated after the first round of last year’s Chase. He hopes that’s not the same case this year.

“I feel better about our chances this year vs. last year,” he said. “I felt like last year heading into the Chase that we didn’t really have anything in our pocket as far as little bit better cars.

“I feel like right now we have cars capable of winning. I look forward to getting (to Chicagoland), it’s been a good track for Kyle and I and would be a great way to start off the Chase.”

This marks the first time Chip Ganassi Racing has had two drivers in the Chase in the same year. Ganassi told McMurray before the race that if both he and Larson make the Chase, it would be the “biggest thing ever” at CGR in terms of NASCAR achievements.

“When you look at Chip’s organization, he’s been so successful in Indy cars, sports cars, we’ve won some big races at NASCAR, but the NASCAR side is really hard to keep on top,” McMurray said. “It’s like that for everybody. So when you get down, it’s really hard to climb your way back up.

“Earlier this year, we made some changes as far as personnel. He moved some people around. The crew chiefs and everybody is working really well together and they’ve been able to build some great cars. He’s proud of that because when you make those changes, there’s no guarantee it’s going to show up on the racetrack – but it has.”

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Home sweet home: Denny Hamlin wins at Richmond, Chase field is set

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Richmond International Raceway once again proved to be home sweet home for Denny Hamlin in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

Hamlin, who grew up in nearby Chesterfield, Virginia, won there for the third time in his Sprint Cup career and also for the third time this season.

The race went into overtime and was extended seven laps after Regan Smith wrecked with one lap left in the scheduled 400-lap event.

Hamlin, who started from the pole, led 189 laps, second only to Martin Truex Jr. leading 193 laps. Hamlin took over the lead for the final time on Lap 322 and held on for the remaining 85 laps.

MORE: Sprint Cup race results from Richmond

MORE: Kevin Harvick ends regular season as points leader

MORE: Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray complete Chase field

“We really got it tuned in there in the last half of the race,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “The restarts, everything just kind of worked out well for us all day. … Hopefully, we’re going on another Chase run.”

 

The win was the 29th of Hamlin’s Sprint Cup career and second in the last five races (he also won at Watkins Glen).

It was also the third consecutive win for Joe Gibbs Racing at Richmond, its 12th in the series at Richmond. JGR also leads all organizations going into the Chase with wins in 11 of the first 26 races.

Kyle Larson roared from behind to finish second, followed by Truex, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.

Saturday’s race was the final race to make the upcoming 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The biggest drama of the night came on Lap 363 when seven drivers – Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Dylan Lupton, David Ragan, Chris Buescher, Carl Edwards and A.J. Allmendinger – were involved in a wreck that brought out a race-stopping red flag. Newman blamed Stewart.

MORE: Newman blasts Tony Stewart wreck; should be retired the way he drives

How Hamlin won: Hamlin held the early lead, then let Martin Truex Jr. take the point. But it was clear Hamlin had a strong car and paced himself until he regained the lead and then didn’t let go from that point.

Who else had a good race: Martin Truex Jr. almost won his second straight race. But even with finishing third, he showed great promise heading into the Chase. … Kasey Kahne needed a win to make the Chase but just fell short and was eliminated. … If there had been another couple laps, Kyle Larson may have caught Hamlin. Still, his second-place finish bodes well for himself and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray in the Chase.

Who had a bad race: Ryan Blaney had high hopes of making the Chase, but those hopes ended on Lap 11 when he wrecked, suffering heavy damage to the rear of his Wood Brothers Ford. … Paul Menard’s night ended after a single-car wreck on Lap 265. … Matt Kenseth’s night also ended early on Lap 335. Brad Keselowski missed a shift and then drifted up the track, running into Kenseth’s car.

MORE: Kenseth on Brad Keselowski – ‘He cleaned me out’

Notable: After just three cautions in the first 200 laps, there were 13 more in the second half of the race for a total of 16 yellow flags, breaking the old RIR single race record of 15. … After changing the front tire changer and front tire carrier on Kevin Harvick’s team — they came from teammate Danica Patrick‘s crew — Harvick had strong pit stops all night. His final stop was 10.8 seconds.

Quote of the race: “It’s just disappointing that you have someone old like that that’s retiring, or should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous. I only hit him in Turn 1 when he cut across my nose. So, I don’t think there was any reason other than him being bipolar and having anger issues (leading to the second incident between them).” – Ryan Newman on his crash with former teammate Tony Stewart.

What’s next: The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship begins Sept. 18, at Chicagoland Speedway.

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