Tag Archives: Challenger Round

Thoughts before the NASCAR Chase Contender Round Begins

The Challenger round for the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup has ended the first of three rounds of elimination for four drivers and teams prior to the finale at Homestead Miami Speedway. Since this was the first round we have not seen how it works or the strategy either used by the teams on purpose or by necessity. Here are some thoughts on the next two rounds.

It was amazing that at the bottom of the 16 drivers there were so many drivers so close in points at the last of the three races. This made the race for the twelfth and final spot interesting. Well as interesting as it can be watching drivers a lap or more down racing to make the next round of the Chase. Have you ever seen a race where being a lap or two down makes such a difference? The good thing is that as the number of Chase drivers gets smaller this will probably not be the case. If you’re a lap down you’re done.

In the race at Dover, the hype was that desperate drivers would take desperate measures to keep alive in the Chase. That was the whole point of the Chase, to give drivers hope to continue forward if they had a bad race. We didn’t see it, not at all. Could this mean that these drivers have been racing 100% regardless of the Chase format and they didn’t need a new Chase to encourage better racing?

The show that Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon put on during the first round begs the question why don’t they get three bonus points that carry over to the next and subsequent round. Sure you get a pass on the round you won in but not any of them needed it. This just might be more important in this round because anything can happen at Talladega, but then again Jeff Gordon had anything happen at New Hampshire. It only seems fair to reward wins reset them equal for the last race only.

Now begins the second of the three elimination rounds of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Will we see more of the same as we dwindle down twelve drivers to eight? What about the Talladega Super Speedway race, anything can happen there? Will we see the Chase drivers racing harder than ever for a win during the first two races in order to be safe come Talladega?

It appears to me that the risk in racing outweighs the reward such that it is more a game of Chess. If you do everything right you put yourself into a position to capitalize and perhaps get a win. If you don’t then you go on defense trying to minimize the damage to stay playing the game as long as possible.  Either way as the players dwindle there will be less to defend and more to go take. The next three weeks will tell the story.

The first race of the Contender Round begins at Kansas Speedway. If you cannot to the Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400, it will be shown on ESPN on Sunday, Oct. 5 starting at 1 PM ET.

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

Feature Photo Credit: Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing



Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe Put Together a Championship Effort at Chicagoland

Brad Keselowski wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway the first race of the Challenger Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Keselowski will automatically move on to the next Round, the Contender Round, in the Chase because of this win.

Kyle Busch led the field to the green flag in the MyAFibStory.com 400.  He led 46 laps and looked to be a factor in the race until green flag pit stops at lap 148 put him back to tenth.

We were superfast early, superfast when the track was green and we were out front and we could run second or third and didn’t have a gaggle of cars around you.”  Busch added, “But anytime I got in aero situations, man it just kills me.  I don’t know what I have to do to get there.  Each restart, the farther back you get there, it hurts you. He was not able to drive back to the front after that but was able to salvage a sixth place finish.

Brad Keselowski started the race 25th due to the rain out of qualifying. They worked on the car during the two practices Saturday and got it better but when the race started it just took off.  By lap 64 he made it up to tenth and during the caution on lap 66 they took two tires to get to fifth.

Another caution flag and round of pit stops on lap 98 and Brad Keselowski was in second. He was able to take the lead from there only to have potential disaster strike during another pit stop under caution for debris on lap 181.

The rear tire changer stood up and informed crew chief Paul Wolfe that he felt he didn’t get a lug nut tight leaving the potential for a loose wheel. Wolfe calmly called Keselowski back to pit road under caution opting not to risk disaster.

We had the issue on pit road.  Got us a little bit behind.  But it was good that the issue we had, we came down and fixed it before we went back green.  The changer felt like he didn’t get ’em tight.” Wolfe added, “I think that was key, that he stood up and said, I feel like we’re going to have a loose wheel here.  To come in and fix that under yellow was much less of a penalty than if we got going green and had a vibration.  That was key there to being able to overcome that loose wheel. From there, we saw we had pretty good speed in our car all day.

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was so fast that Keselowski was able to not only recover but drive back to the top five. There was another caution on lap 244. Keselowski restarted fourth behind Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon the other cars that were the class of the field. Keselowski was able to pass Gordon but wasn’t able to catch Larson and Harvick.

Larson and Harvick were battling side by side for several laps allowing Keselowski to drive up to them. Keselowski made the most impossible looking move by driving right between them to the lead. He then survived a late restart to win the race.

Keselowski said, “We were able to take advantage with that on the restarts, get up to third. I just saw a hole and I went for it.  The 4 and the 42 were racing really hard, doing all the things they needed to do.  It just opened a hole.  I didn’t know if my car would stick or not, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it.  I tried it, it did.  That got us into the lead. Even that was going to be close.  I think the 42 was quite a bit faster as the long run went.  We got that yellow.  Things evened out.  We were able to take advantage from there.

Brad Keselowski, Paul Wolfe and the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team showed the type of effort that it will take to win a Championship. They let the whole garage know they mean business and that it is no gimmick. To keep their heads and stay on their game in spite of potential problems is what it takes.

Roger Penske explained how important the team effort was best. “Today, as Paul said, the real winner today is the young man that changes the rear tire, put his hand up and said, Hey, I screwed up, the wheel might be loose.  Paul had the guts to say on the radio, We’re not going to go out and run to find out, we’re coming in now.

Jeff Gordon was second followed by Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick. Kyle Larson was the highest finishing rookie.

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

Feature Photo Credit: 301568 Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

Kyle Busch will start the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Up Front

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway is Sunday, September 14th. Kyle Busch will start the race at the pole putting himself and his team in a great position to start the Challenger Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The Sprint Cup Series had one practice at Chicagoland Speedway before qualifying for MyAFibStory.com 400. A few hours after practice rain came to the speedway washing out Camping World Truck Series Qualifying and the last Nationwide Series practice. Unfortunately it stuck around to wash out Cup Qualifying. The starting order will be set by the NASCAR Rule Book.

Kyle Busch led the first and only Sprint Cup Series practice with a speed of 191.442. He beat Ryan Newman by six hundredths of a second. They will share the front row for Sunday’s race. Carl Edwards will start right behind them. All three of them are starting in a great position for the first race in the Challenger Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Most of the top teams spent practice in qualifying trim expecting rain to wash out qualifying. Though Kyle Bush didn’t specifically state it, it appears that he did. They all wanted to start up front but more importantly get the best pit stalls in order to make their race the best it can be.

Busch said, “Having a good time there in practice means a lot, but there’s obviously a lot of things that need to happen in the race this weekend for us and getting off to a good start and being able to carry that into the next 10 weeks.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start fourth followed by Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson. Larson is the highest qualifying rookie.

There will be two practices on Saturday in much different conditions today so the drivers and teams will have ample time to adjust their cars from the qualifying set up of today.

If you cannot get to the Chicagoland Speedway for the MyAFibStory.com 400 it will be broadcast on ESPN, on Sunday September 14th starting at 1 PM ET.

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

Feature Photo Credit: 301507 Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images

Keys to Winning the New NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup

The first of three rounds, the Challenger Round, of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup begins at Chicagoland Speedway. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards shared their thoughts and approaches to the new format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The new Chase for the Sprint Cup format consists of three rounds, The Challenger, Contender and Eliminator round. Each one consists of three races each and at the end of each round four drivers will be eliminated. The last race of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway the last four remaining drivers in the Chase will settle the Championship on the Track. The highest finisher of the four will win the Championship.

When thinking of the Chase and the prospects for Elimination after each round, it is easy to get caught up in what ifs. Especially when making it to the last race is the only way you will get the Prize. Jimmie Johnson laid out how this new format will be intense for some teams.

Johnson said, “I think it goes in multiple directions depending on your races. If you have poor finishes in the first and second races and you’re not looking strong in points, it’s really easy for that third race; you need the Hail Mary to make something happen. If you get off to a quick start and you’re solid in the points, of course you’re going to take an opportunity to win, but you know you’re covering the base on points. I think there are going to be multiple strategies that take place, depending on performance. And then, after three races, you’re going to have to re-rack and start it over again.

As much as “re-rack” and start over again sounds good one may not make the re-rack if performance is subpar especially as the number of drivers in the rack get reduced after the first couple of rounds. This probably isn’t a concern for six time champion Johnson, the hallmark of consistency.

Matt Kenseth seems to think there is no special strategy for winning in the new format. Quite simply just keep doing what got you there.

I don’t really know what to expect in the new format.  I say this a lot, but there’s no magic formula to winning no matter what the format is, really.” Kenseth added, “It depends on what other cars do.  Last year, it would have been good enough if Jimmie (Johnson) would have ran a little bit worse because we finished second.  I don’t know how it’s going to work out, I think you just take it one week at a time and get the best results you can and at the end of the day hope that they’re good enough to go to the next round and so on.

Jimmie Johnson agrees with Kenseth but thinks it just might take a little more. You just might have to step it up some so you remain in the hunt.

But I really feel that it isn’t any different than the way you’ve had to win championships in the past. You have to battle that fine line of risk versus reward. And with as competitive as our garage area is, you can’t leave a half-second on pit road.” Johnson added, “You can’t leave a couple tenths on the race track. You’ve got to somehow dial-in 100 percent and no more.

Dialing in 100% is exactly what it will take. Carl Edwards is expecting everyone in the Chase to step it up or rise to the challenge. Could that mean somehow raising the bar such that 100% isn’t enough?

I hope it is a sign of what is to come. This is the Chase and it is time to step it up. I think you are going to see the best out of everyone. The best they can put together using the things everyone has learned throughout the year.” Edwards added, “We talked a lot about it yesterday and the day before with all the media but nobody really knows how this will play out. Somehow, someway people find a way to get a little extra speed once the pressure is on.

Jimmie Johnson thinks he just needs to do what it takes to stay alive and make it to Homestead Miami. It will require having better and better finishes as the Rounds get completed.

“So, over the ten races, a lot can happen. And this year, with the format changing as dramatically as it has, the opportunity for somebody to stay alive and really; you just need to be hot towards the end, if not really hot in one race. So, we’ll just see how it all plays out.”

Looks like the strategy will be to stay on your game and perhaps step it up a little until Homstead. If for some reason you are not successful at that, then its “Hail Mary” time. Race the wheels off your car and win a race. Either way NASCAR fans can expect some all-out racing in order for these drivers in the Chase to win a Championship. It means each and every Chase race is really important. The last race of every round just might be more important, especially for those teams in trouble for making it to the next round.

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

Feature Photo Credit: 301470 Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images



Richard Petty and Eckrich Support Operation Homefront at Chicagoland

Aric Almirola made his first NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup but before he took to the track at the Chicagoland Speedway his team honored a Retired Army Veteran.

A replica of the No. 43 Eckrich Ford drove up and greeted Veteran Army Specialist Raymond Goss and his family in front of a local Jewel-Osco store. Inside the car were VIP tickets to join the No. 43 race team this weekend complete with authentic crew uniforms and hats. Not only cool, but a NASCAR race fan’s dream.

The Goss family was also presented with a year’s supply of groceries from Jewel-Osco. While celebrating their win none other than Richard Petty himself drove around the store in a new Ford Fusion. He pulled up to the family and gave the car to them.

I am just overwhelmed, I just can’t believe that Eckrich and Richard Petty gave my family a new car.  Who can say that? I don’t think too many people and it’s something that I’ll never forget.” Goss added, “It means a lot when a company like Eckrich remembers veterans like myself and do something special.  We’re just really grateful for Eckrich, Jewel-Osco and Richard Petty. We’re now fans for life.

Friday’s event is part of the continued Eckrich “Operation Inspiration” campaign, which supports and honors military families.  Eckrich is in its third year of partnership with Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit which provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. Eckrich has already raised more than $750,000 in donations for the charity.

The No. 43 Eckrich Ford driven by Aric Almirola at Chicagoland Speedway will have the names of 120 military families on the hood and sides of the car this weekend at Chicagoland as part of Operation Homefront.

If you cannot get to the Chicagoland Speedway for the MyAFibStory.com 400 it will be broadcast on ESPN on Sunday September 14th starting at 1 PM ET.

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

Feature Photo Credit: Brad Schloss Photography