The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Starts at Chicagoland

NASCAR doesn’t visit the Chicago area often. This weekend all three of the top NASCAR series comes to Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet Illinois for three days of racing.

Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series races under the lights for the Lucas Oil 225. The weather is expected to be cold in Joliet at race time but with no threat of rain it will be perfect for racing. In fact because of the cold weather the speeds will be some of the fastest the Truck Series has run there. Wisconsin native, Johnny Sauter followed by perennial Truck Driver Matt Crafton are at the top of the standings and are expected to run well. They have their work cut out for them as Kyle Busch and teammate Darrell Wallace Jr., who have won half the races this season, will both be in the race.

Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series takes to the track for the Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300 Powered By Coca-Cola. Rookie driver and three time winner, Chase Elliott leads the standings and is expected to contend for the win. He also has his work cut out for him because many Sprint Cup regular drivers are interloping in this Series because they are at the same track. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have won seven races combined in this series out of 25 races.

Sunday afternoon in the MyAFibStory.com 400, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has the spot light nationwide because this race is the start to the prestigious Chase for the Sprint Cup. This year sixteen drivers are contending for the Championship. In order of their seeding, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, A.J. Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, and Ryan Newman. The first seven of these drivers have won multiple races this season and stand to figure prominently at Chicagoland.

One cannot win the Championship at Chicagoland but one can lose it. This year four drivers will be eliminated from contention after the third race in the Chase. Essentially if any one of the sixteen drivers does not run well at Chicagoland they risk certain elimination after the Series leaves Dover Delaware.

Look for many show cars and driver appearances around the Chicago area prior to the events at the speedway in Joliet. NASCAR will be everywhere.

The weather is expected to be cool and dry which should lead to some of the fastest racing the Chicagoland Speedway has ever seen. Tickets are still available. Visit http://www.chicagolandspeedway.com to find out more.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 290409 Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images

 

 

NASCAR Race to the Chase Report Card

On January 30th 2014, prior to the start of this season, NASCAR introduced the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It is one of the biggest changes to the Chase since NASCAR implemented the Chase in 2004. It was billed as a format that put the emphasis on winning races over consistency- “Points Racing”.

We have arrived at a format that makes every race matter even more, diminishes points racing, puts a premium on winning races and concludes with a best-of-the-best, first-to-the-finish line showdown race – all of which is exactly what fans want,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO.

The 2014 Race to the Chase is over, the Contenders for the Chase for the Sprint Cup are known; but how did it work out? Was winning really enhanced? Did we have more race winners than we typically do in the 26 weeks leading up to the Chase?

When it comes to having more winners and/or a premium on winning it doesn’t really look like it changed much, if at all. During the first 26 weeks there were 13 different winners, seven of which were multiple winners. The average for the last eleven years was 12.55 different winners and 6.09 multiple winners. See the chart below:

Year Winners Multiple Winners
2014 13 7
2013 13 6
2012 14 7
2011 15 5
2010 11 6
2009 13 7
2008 10 4
2007 14 5
2006 11 7
2005 12 6
2004 12 7
Average 12.55 6.09

 

Was there a premium on winning? This can be looked at two different ways. The first, were there any drivers that would have made the Chase via points that missed the Chase because they didn’t win. The answer is no. The three drivers who made the Chase via points; Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle finished the regular season 6th, 8th and 10th in the standings. They would have been in the Chase anyway.

The other way to look at the winning premium is who made the Chase via winning that would not have otherwise made the Chase. Kasey Kahne (13th in points) and Kyle Busch (17th in points) would have made the Chase via the Wild Card. Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger would not have made the Chase but they each won one race. They essentially took up the four additional spots provided in the Chase via this new format.

When I started the research for this report card I really thought I would find something different. Throughout the season there were times when winning seemed important. Who can argue that Kasey Kahne and his team didn’t work hard at Atlanta in order to make the Chase? How about AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen?

In the end though one just needs to look at the top of the points standings; all of the multiple winners are right there. They didn’t win and then ride around waiting for the Chase. They kept at it so that they can be in Championship form for the Chase. The top five in points—Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson—all have at least three wins and are poised to enter the Chase in a dominant way. These guys are real Championship Contenders.

Sure it’s conceivable that one of the others who got into the Chase might win the Championship, but watching those other drivers above there is no way each and every one will fail.

I originally thought at the beginning of the season that the Race to the Chase didn’t change by much. There was, though, a sense of excitement from a fan perspective that if my driver wins, they are in. That was unmistakable from the first race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won until Atlanta when Kasey Kahne won.

I give the Race to the Chase a B+ but the year is not over.  It’s about to get ramped up when the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts. Win and you move on to the next round with the final race deciding the Champion right there on the track. The driver who is in front wins the Championship. No points racing there.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway, Sunday September 14th for the MyAfibStory.com 400. If you cannot get to Chicagoland it will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 2 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 301215 Richmond International Raceway

NASCAR Chase Bubble Watch – First Time Winner Watch Richmond

It is the time NASCAR fans have been waiting for, the last race before the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Richmond International Raceway has been the location of many great stories of drivers and teams doing anything to make the Chase. This year the changes making winning more important have many people expecting the drama to be ramped up even more.

Here are the drivers to watch who still have a chance to make the Chase. The key is to watch for a new winner this season. A new winner this season can take away the prize and the chances for other drivers to make the Chase.

NEW WINNER:

When watching the race much of the hopes and dreams of the drivers depends on if a driver who has not won yet this year wins the race. That driver would simply win and make the Chase. There are sixteen drivers in this position.

Of those sixteen, Matt Kenseth does not need to win, he is the highest in points without a win and would make the Chase regardless. There are two spots left to fill in the Chase. Even though Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race if he does it does not change any of the scenarios for the other drivers trying to make the Chase.

Ryan Newman is nineteen points ahead of Greg Biffle in the standings. They are racing each other for the last remaining position available in points if there is a new winner. If either wins it doesn’t really matter as they would be in.

In the new winner scenario, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and all the other drivers in the top 30 in points need to be that new winner in order to make the Chase.

REPEAT WINNER:

When watching the race if one of the drivers who is already locked into the Chase because they won a race the outlook changes. One of those drivers plus Matt Kenseth wins the race then there would be not one but two spots available for drivers who are highest in points and have not won a race.

If this is the case then Ryan Newman just has to finish 41st or better and he makes the Chase. 42nd if he leads a lap and 43rd if he leads the most laps. In other words he is all but locked in if there is a repeat winner.

Greg Biffle is in a similar place as Newman he has to finish 22nd or better and he makes the Chase. 23rd if he leads a lap and 24th if he leads the most laps. Biffle is in a pretty good spot if there is a repeat winner.

Clint Bower and Kyle Larson are 23 and 24 points respectively behind Biffle. They have a chance but Biffle must falter for them to make it into the Chase if there is a repeat winner. They will have their own race within the race in order to be in position to pounce on a mistake by Biffle.

Since there would be no new winner in this scenario all the other drivers in the top 30 do not have a chance to make the Chase. See Chase Grid Below:

If you cannot get to Richmond International Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 it will be broadcast live on ABC at 7:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 289999 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Credit: NASCAR Media
Credit: NASCAR Media