Race two of NASCAR’s championship chase heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Jeff Burton hops in the NBCSN Toyota Camry to preview what drivers will face on the track.
Even though we’re still more than two weeks away from the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the battle has already begun.
NASCAR has brought back its very popular “16 Nations. 10 Battles. 1 Prevails” marketing theme for a second straight year.
“Throughout the 10 nerve-wracking weeks of the Chase, drivers will battle to see who will advance, and who will be eliminated. Each driver needs the support of a team and the support of their nation, as they prepare for battle each week. So it’s time for you to Join the Battle and support your driver nation!
“To find out more about the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup visit NASCAR.com.”
Also, don’t forget to sign up at nbcsports.com/gridchallenge for your chance to win $16 million by selecting a perfect Chase bracket.
Here’s the first commercial spot that will begin airing today on NBC and NBCSN.
Paul Menard is a realist. He’s in 12th place in the Sprint Cup standings and 14th on the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid.
Menard is 19 points ahead of the final driver on the grid, Clint Bowyer, and there’s two races remaining to make the Chase.
That’s why Menard has no preconceived notions of winning at Darlington (his best finish there has been 13th in eight starts) or Richmond (just one top-10 in 17 starts) to solidify his bid to make the Chase for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.
Rather than playing offense and going for the win, Menard said Friday that he’ll be playing defense and will be points racing in the final two pre-Chase races, figuring that will give him the best chance to protect his playoff hopes.
“No, we’re not comfortable,” Menard said at Road America, where he’ll drive in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. “Honestly, I didn’t look at the points after Bristol.
“I think we’re around 40, 45 to the good (actually 54 points ahead of Aric Almirola, who is battling Bowyer for the final Chase spot), but that all goes away real quick. Clint’s coming on strong and has had a lot of top-10s.
“No, we’re not comfortable, but we feel good about our cars, we know how we need to race in order to survive and get the points. We probably won’t be that aggressive to get a race win. We’re just going to try and manage our points and do what we can there.”
Menard, who turned 35 on Aug. 21, is focused on Darlington on the Cup side. He’s not even thinking about Richmond at this point, even though his Chase chances could hinge on that race. While he’s enjoying being back in his home state of Wisconsin this weekend, he knows what lies ahead of him next week.
“Darlington is a tough track, where you have to run right near the fence and you’re going to hit the fence at some point,” Menard said. “So it’s just a matter of minimizing damage and not cutting down a tire.”
With three races remaining to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, much of the 16-driver field is already locked in.
But there’s still one significant battle that resembles a game of musical chairs: three drivers duking it out for the 16th and final Chase spot.
Right now, Clint Bowyer has the edge, holding down the final spot on the Chase grid, according to a CNBC study after this past Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan.
But Aric Almirola (23 points behind) and Kasey Kahne (26 points back) haven’t given up hope that they can overtake Bowyer for the final spot.
According to CNBC’s Eric Chemi, winless drivers Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon are all likely to make the Chase despite not having visited Victory Lane thus far in 2015.
But also winless are Bowyer, Almirola and Kahne.
“Right now Bowyer is still hanging on to his spot, with a sizable cushion,” Chemi writes. “Our model still has him as the favorite to get the sixteenth Chase spot – 71 percent chance.
“Kahne has a 15 percent chance to make it back in. He’ll basically need to do it with a win, because he’s too far back on points to expect that to be a real strategy. Among the next three tracks, Kahne has won at two of them: Bristol and Richmond. Last year he got a late regular season win, at Atlanta – the second-to-last race before the Chase started.”
Both Kahne and Almirola won races last season. Bowyer, on the other hand, has not visited a Sprint Cup Victory Lane since 2012.
And because of that, Chemi adds, “(Bowyer) might be better focused on accumulating points and hoping nobody else new wins a race.”
But don’t forget Bowyer appeared to be fairly comfortable into the Chase last year, only to be eliminated in the final Chase qualifying race at Richmond.
Check out the chart compiled by Chemi and Andrew Maness of PitRho, a racing data and analytics firm, which have created a computer model that simulates the season 100,000 times based on each driver’s performance in 2015 and the previous two seasons:
Sign up at nbcsports.com/gridchallenge for your chance to win $16 million by selecting a perfect Chasebracket, but if you miss out on the grand prize, you’ll still have a chance to win the weekly playoff grid challenge.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kurt Busch is back, but what are the chances he could be racing for a title?
One of the requirements to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup is that a driver start every race. NASCAR waived that requirement when it reinstated Busch this week following a three-race suspension. Busch still needs to be in the top 30 in points if he wins a race to be eligible for the Chase.
How hard will it be for Busch to be at least 30th in points by Richmond in September?
Not that hard.
Based on how many points the driver in 30th place had by the Chase cutoff each of the past four years, Busch likely needs to average a 25th-place finish in each of the 23 races remaining before the Chase to earn enough points to meet that requirement. Last year, Busch had an average finish of 17.9 in the final 23 races before the Chase began. That included his win at Martinsville and six finishes of 30th or worse.
Here’s a look at how many points the driver in 30th place had each of the past four years before the Chase began:
2014 – David Gilliland had 407 points
2013 – Dave Blaney had 396 points
2012 – Travis Kvapil had 434 points
2011 – David Gilliland had 446 points
Kurt Bush isn’t the only driver who could make the Chase with a waiver. Brian Vickers missed the first two races of this season as he recovered from heart surgery in December. NASCAR announced in January that it would waive the requirement that Vickers start every race to be Chase eligible.
Vickers made his season debut last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, finishing 15th. He enters today’s race 33rd in the points. Vickers likely needs to average a 26th-place finish in the remaining 23 races before the Chase to satisfy the top-30 requirement.
Vickers had an average finish of 17.4 in the final 23 races before the Chase last season.