Jimmie Johnson returned to familiar ground on Sunday afternoon – Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He entered the weekend as the track’s all-time leader with seven Cup Series wins. He exits with his eighth career victory on the mile-and-a-half North Carolina oval, punching his ticket into the next round of the post-season Chase. As successful as Johnson has been at C-M-S, his last win there before Sunday came more than two years ago. Johnson got the best of race leader Matt Kenseth on the day’s final restart and drove away to his third win of the season but first since March 20th at Auto Club Speedway, in the fifth race of the year! The six-time champion started eleventh and led a race-high 155 laps in notching his seventy-eighth career victory – beating runner-up Kenseth to the checkered flag by a second-and-a-half. Kasey Kahne finished third, giving Hendrick Motorsports two of the top three spots. Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson completed the top five … Kevin Harvick started from the pole but led just twelve laps before retiring with engine failure late in the first half of the race. Harvick wasn’t the only Chase driver finishing near the bottom of the running order in Charlotte. Denny Hamlin placed thirtieth, also suffering engine failure. Austin Dillon ran thirty-second, rookie Chase Elliott thirty-third and Joey Logano was thirty-sixth in the forty-car field … Kyle Busch, the Number-1 seed in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, started sixth and finished fourth on Sunday. He’s third in the post-season standings, nine points behind leader Johnson.
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Next Stop… Richmond International Raceway for the Sprint Cup Series’ final race of the regular season, Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400. Thirteen drivers have won races this season, led by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski – who have four victories apiece. Rookie Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon currently hold provisional Chase berths based on the regular-season standings with Jamie McMurray leading Ryan Newman by twenty-two points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot. The Chase opens September 18th at Chicagoland Speedway … Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle will be making his five hundredth career start in Saturday’s race. He’s winless in 2016 and needs a victory at Richmond to qualify for the post-season Chase … And Furniture Row Racing, expanding to two Sprint Cup teams in 2017, has named Chris Gayle crew chief for Erik Jones’ Number-77 Toyota. Gayle joins F-R-R after spending fourteen years as an engineer and crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones will join Martin Truex Junior in the organization’s Sprint Cup lineup for next season.
Sprint Cup Series drivers Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson have each been penalized with the loss of fifteen championship points after their cars failed post-race laser inspection last weekend at Darlington Raceway. The infraction is particularly costly to Newman, who’s locked in a battle with Jamie McMurray for the final spot in the Chase with just one race remaining in the regular season. With the penalty factored in, Newman (winless this year) now trails McMurray by twenty-two points heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Richard Childress, owner of Newman’s Number-31 Chevrolet, also was docked fifteen points and crew chief Luke Lambert was fined twenty-five thousand dollars. Likewise, Chip Ganassi – Larson’s car owner – drew a fifteen-point penalty and crew chief Chad Johnston has been fined $22,500. Larson is already locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by virtue of his victory eleven days ago at Michigan International Speedway. Larson and Newman finished third and eighth, respectively, in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington … In addition, five Sprint Cup Series teams were issued written warnings for failing pre-race inspection numerous times. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski were penalized with the loss of fifteen minutes of practice time … In the X-FINITY Series, rookie Ryan Preece’s No. 01 J-D Motorsports team was given a written warning for twice failing pre-race inspection at Darlington … In the Camping World Truck Series, the teams of Tyler Young and eventual race winner John Hunter Nemechek drew written warnings. Truck trailing arms on their respective vehicles did not meet specifications during opening-day inspection at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on September 2nd.
With the final weekend of the regular season now looming at Richmond International Raceway, there are three spots still open on The Chase Grid for non-race winners to fill heading into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Sprint Cup Series race. Thirteen drivers have been victorious in 2016: Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. All are within the requisite top thirty of the standings, which currently leaves a maximum of three post-season spots available based on the point standings. Four drivers are in the mix for those final three spots: rookie Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman – who trails McMurray by seven points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot … Any driver who hasn’t yet won but reaches Victory Lane at Richmond would qualify for the post-season, provided that driver is among the top thirty in points, and would reduce the number of spots available based on the regular-season standings … With the post-season now right around the corner, the race for the Number-1 seed on The Chase Grid is coming down to a two-man battle between Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Brad Keselowski (Team Penske). Each has four victories in 2016. Busch is a four-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series at R-I-R while Keselowski has one victory there. They finished second and eleventh, respectively, in this year’s first race at Richmond on April 24th.
SUNDAY NIGHT’S BOJANGLES’ SOUTHERN 500 … is the next-to-last Sprint Cup race of the regular season. It’s Darlington’s second annual throwback weekend that honors the history and heritage of the sport, and features vintage paint schemes made famous years ago by drivers such as David Pearson, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough. With just two races left before The Chase Grid is set, Jamie McMurray leads Ryan Newman by fifteen points in the fight for the final “playoff” spot.
Just three Sprint Cup Series races remain in the regular season and four spots are still open on The Chase Grid for non-race winners to fill heading into Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Twelve drivers have been victorious thus far in 2016: Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. All are within the requisite top thirty of the standings, which currently leaves a maximum of four post-season spots available based on the point standings. Ryan Newman holds a thirty-five-point lead over Trevor Bayne in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot. In this year’s first race at Michigan on June 12th, Newman finished eleventh and Bayne placed fifteenth … If the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began today, Austin Dillon, rookie Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray would hold the three other spots. Any driver who hasn’t yet won but reaches Victory Lane in one of the next three races would qualify for the post-season, provided that driver was among the top thirty in points, and would reduce the number of spots available based on the regular-season standings.
Four Sprint Cup Series races remain in the regular season and five spots on The Chase Grid are still open heading into Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops
N-R-A Night Race in Bristol, Tennessee. Twelve drivers have been victorious thus far in 2016: Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. All are within the requisite top thirty of the standings with the exception of Buescher, currently just three points below the cutoff … Assuming he will climb into the top thirty over the next four weeks, that leaves a maximum of four post-season spots available based on the point standings. Jamie McMurray holds a thirty-point lead over Kyle Larson, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot. In this year’s first race at Bristol on April 17th, neither McMurray nor Larson cracked the top ten, but McMurray had the better of it – finishing thirteenth, twenty-two spots ahead of his teammate … If the Chase began today, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and rookie Chase Elliott would hold the three other spots. Any driver who hasn’t yet won but reaches Victory Lane in one of the next four races would qualify for the post-season, provided that driver was among the top thirty in points, and would reduce the number of spots available based on the regular-season standings.
Next Stop Is Watkins Glen International for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. With just five races remaining in the regular season, it appears that twelve of the sixteen spots on The Chase Grid will be filled by race-winning drivers: Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. That would leave four post-season spots available based on the point standings. Jamie McMurray currently holds a nine-point lead over Kyle Larson, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot … Six drivers are presently in the mix for those final four spots: Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, rookie Chase Elliott, McMurray, Larson and Kasey Kahne … Jeff Gordon will make the eight hundredth start of his career at the Glen and his third in the Number-88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, still subbing for Dale Earnhardt Junior who remains sidelined while recovering from a concussion.
Brad Keselowski stretched his final fuel load right to the finish line to notch his third career Kentucky win and second straight victory of the season. The closing laps saw several teams try to stretch the final fuel run hoping for a caution, only to be forced to pit. Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated the race leading a combined 174 laps but were among those who needed to pit for fuel finishing ninth and tenth respectively. Carl Edwards was also working fuel strategy and was able to run down Keselowski in the closing laps, but was not able to pass him and was forced to settle for second. Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five. The newly repaved and reconfigured surface of Kentucky Speedway proved to be a challenge to many drivers over the course of the evening. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the first driver to struggle with the new lower downforce aero package at the speedway, wrecking on lap nine. He was not the last, as a total of nine drivers would eventually be involved in accidents that brought about a track-record tying eleven cautions for fifty-three laps on the evening. Jimmie Johnson, who crashed his primary car in practice, saw a repeat performance in the race, spinning in turn-4 and making contact with the wall.
Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott also were involved in accidents throughout the evening. By virtue of his early departure, Ryan Blaney has now dropped out of the top-sixteen in Championship points which will place a great deal of pressure on the rookie driver in the final eight races of the regular season. Jeffery Earnhardt, who finished twenty-eighth, was the highest finishing rookie, on a night when many drivers struggled with the new track conditions.
Next stop Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s Good Sam 500, fourth race of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series and the second of three straight in the western United States. Brad Keselowski was victorious last weekend in Las Vegas and will arrive in Phoenix in search of his first Cup Series win on the one-mile oval. He has one victory there in the X-FINITY Series, in 2014.
Teams will get ninety minutes of practice Friday morning before qualifying late this afternoon. Ryan Newman holds the track record for poles with four including three straight from 2002 through 2004 … Kevin Harvick rolls into the weekend as a favorite to notch his first victory of the young season. The 2014 champion has won five of the last seven Cup Series races contested at P-I-R, including a streak of four straight that was halted by Dale Earnhardt Junior last fall. Harvick leads all drivers with seven wins in Phoenix, three more than his nearest challenger – Jimmie Johnson.Kyle
Kyle Busch has opened with a strong defense of his 2015 championship, posting three straight top-five finishes and leading the early-season standings by seven points over Harvick and Johnson – who are tied for second place.
Busch has one Cup Series win at Phoenix, in 2005. He’s won eight times in the X-FINITY Series and is entered this weekend to make his bid for a ninth victory.
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