Friday, September 30, 2016

Synergy: Five Questions for Dover and Las Vegas

(Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
by Kristen Schneider

We meet again, Miles the Monster.

NASCAR splits their series up yet again, but the two tracks will provide plenty of action that aligns quite nicely with the current Chase standings.

Sprint Cup and Xfinity return to the northeast for the weekend at Dover International Speedway, battling steep banking and intense situations. Both championship scenarios are getting quite interesting, with the series favorites having completely opposite weekends. While that goes on, Camping World Truck Series drivers head out west for their Las Vegas Motor Speedway visit. Under the lights in Sin City? This ought to go well!

There are many headlines coming out of this championship season, and it continues with this week’s edition of Five Questions.

Can Hemric recover from a rough Chase start? Brad Keselowski Racing had a rollercoaster day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with Tyler Reddick scoring a fourth-place finish and Daniel Hemric relegated to 28th. Not a good Chase showing for the Ford driver. However, there’s hope this weekend -- although he's only visited this track once, he captured a top 10 in that lone start. If that doesn’t convince you, look at the speed BKR has shown all year long. Hemric’s stats already best his 2015 numbers, and the season isn’t over yet. With a Xfinity Series career on the horizon, this kid is one of the strongest young guns in the Camping World Truck Series right now. There’s time to recover, and Hemric has the ability to take advantage of every opportunity presented to him. His truck will be near the front come Saturday night.

Who will rebound faster, Jones or Dillon? The first race of the NXS Chase went south for Erik Jones and Ty Dillon; the two wrecked together at Kentucky Speedway, dismantling strong runs for both championship hopefuls. Dover International Speedway is a difficult place to right your title path, but both of these drivers are capable. If we had to bet one which one will finish better, though, who would be the best pick? Jones is the safest pick, solely because of Joe Gibbs Racing’s strength this season; he is fast and in contention for victories every single weekend. He has also visited the winner’s circle at the Monster Mile. On the other hand, Dillon isn’t chopped liver, either; he has more races under his belt at this track – seven, to be exact – and has speed this year as well. The driver of the No. 3 has one thing Jones doesn’t, and it’s not a good thing. Dillon is experiencing a lot of pressure right now, with trying to get his 2017 plans in order. He is set on moving to the Sprint Cup Series, but he hasn’t show enough Xfinity success to sell me on that dream. He is a talented driver. He wouldn’t have survived this long in the sport if he wasn’t. There is more uncertainty on him than there is on Jones, who is moving up next year via Furniture Row Racing. A championship would increase Dillon’s chances of finding a Sprint Cup home, but the pressure may be too much. Nevertheless, Jones is more reliable and consistent on-track, probably making him the one most likely to bounce back.

Can Koch pose a long-term threat? Well, well, well, look who’s coming on strong. Blake Koch finished 11th at Kentucky, further solidifying himself as "The Little Engine That Could." The fact he and his brand spankin’ new Xfinity team made the Chase playoffs is impressive itself. Kaulig Racing didn’t exist before this January, and look at their competitiveness. Koch has been the XFINITY underdog that pops into the top 10 whenever you forget about him – and now he’s contending for a championship. His consistent top 15s and handful of top 10s makes one wonder if he can pull off strong enough finishes to stay in contention. The team’s technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing gives him a decent shot, and this is where crazy things – like a small team making it to the final round – happen. It will take some crazy form of synergy to trigger it, but never say never, right?

Will Hendrick gain even more momentum? Guess who finally flexed his muscle at New Hampshire? Six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, that’s who. The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished eighth last Sunday, finally showing his Superman suit once again. HMS was quiet most of the season after his early victory – even when rookie teammate Chase Elliott also made the playoffs. Now, the whole organization has come alive, with Kasey Kahne finding the top 10 and Alex Bowman flourishing in his replacement role. The organization is shining at Chase time – just like they’ve done every year since it began. HMS didn’t create the concept of sandbagging, but they’ve perfected it. Despite the varying opinions on this strategy, it definitely works best for their team. You can expect all four cars to keep rising to the challenge – but Johnson and Elliott will be leading their group, of course.

Is complaining the best medicine? It’s Kevin Harvick’s Chase, and he can cry if he wants to. After his critiques of his team and performance, Harvick captured the victory at NHMS, securing a move to the second Chase round. This beats last year’s scenario, when he had to win at Dover to make it – and actually did so. That sort of pressure is off – but another type keeps his crew going. With a driver like Harvick, the No. 4 team has difficulty pleasing him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the 2014 Sprint Cup champion was OK with disappointing pit stops and decent runs, I would question his commitment and passion. Harvick doesn’t enjoy losing – like the other 39 drivers out there. However, he takes it even further by demanding perfection. Is this a bad thing? It can be, especially when you only have so many crew members at your disposal. If Harvick vents his frustrations, it relieves any built-up pressure – even if he does it to the media chasing him through the garage. It seems to work for the former champion, and there is nothing wrong with using a solid strategy. As long as the team understands and responds, and doesn’t let it get to their heads.

NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers threaten to steal headline from XFINITY Series chasers; Erik Jones focused on solid run at Dover


By Carol D’Agostino

As the NASCAR XFINITY Series approaches the second race in its inaugural Chase playoff format, several drivers need a win to advance. Of course, there are also four full-time Sprint Cup drivers entered in tomorrow’s NXS  race at Dover International Speedway. That means four chances to keep a series regular from advancing via a win. 

Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto have never won at Dover, but Kyle Busch has won five times and Joey Logano has four.  

For Erik Jones, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, the plan for this weekend is simple: focus on his own performance and get a solid finish.

“Dover is a place where we’ve always had a lot of speed, and it is one of my favorite tracks. We had a really good package in the spring and we’ve improved on it even more since then,” he said.

Ironically, up until last week’s race at Kentucky Speedway, Jones was the favorite to win the XFINITY Series title. Jones started the race on the pole with four wins in hand. After leading five times for 100 laps, he and fellow Chase driver Ty Dillon collided after a restart on Lap 188. Jones finished in 28th place, putting him ninth in the driver standings. Only eight drivers will advance in the next playoff round which begins after next week’s race in Charlotte.

“Last week I made a mistake laying it all out on the line for a win, but we definitely had the speed and that’s encouraging heading into this weekend,” Jones said. “At this point, we’ll need to focus a little more on points racing, and get a solid finish. I think we can get a top-five finish the next two weeks, and hopefully that will put us in a good position to move on to the next round and keep us in contention for the championship."

His crew chief Chris Gabehart is focused on finishing to their potential.

“We have shown speed and the ability to win nearly every weekend just like we did last weekend at Kentucky, but often times not gotten the finish to show for it. We won earlier this year at Dover with a pretty dominant car. I feel confident we are bringing a better car this time with a great shot at repeating that performance,” Gabehart said.

The other drivers that will be racing hard to keep Jones out of Victory Lane are the three currently on the outside looking into the next Chase round: Ryan Sieg, Brandon Jones and Ty Dillon.

The XFINITY Series Drive Sober 200 at Dover will begin at 3 p.m. tomorrow and will be televised on NBCSN.

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

TV Schedule: Sept. 30-Oct. 2

Dover International Speedway. Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
NASCAR splits its weekend between Dover and Las Vegas.

The Sprint Cup Series and XFINITY Series take on the Monster Mile. Dover marks the first elimination race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Who will advance to the top 12?

The Camping World Truck Series bets on Las Vegas for a standalone race.

The following is a handy guide to track events and television coverage at Las Vegas. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Sept. 30:
10 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
11:30 a.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
12:30 p.m. K&N Pro Series Race: Meridian Speedway (taped), NBCSN
1:30 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6 p.m. K&N Pro Series Race: Meridian Speedway (re-air), NBCSN
11 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN

Saturday, Oct. 1:
2 a.m. K&N Pro Series Race: Meridian Speedway (re-air), NBCSN
10:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
11:30 a.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, CNBC
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3 p.m. XFINITY Series Drive Sober 200, NBCSN
5 p.m. XFINITY Series Post-Race, NBCSN
6 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS2
8 p.m. Camping World Truck Series SetUp, FS1
8:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series DC Solar 350, FS1

Sunday, Oct. 2:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Citizen Soldier 400, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
6 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
1:30 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, September 29, 2016

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Citizen Soldier 400 AKA Round 2 Closer


Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Raceway • Martinsville Speedway
Phoenix International Raceway •  Richmond International Raceway
Distance: 1 mile

by Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Kyle Busch - 5
All with 4 - Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano 
Both with 3 - Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick

By Track
Both with 7 - Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano
All with 6 - Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth
All with 5 - Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  

Recent Pole Winners:
2015 Rained Out
2014 Kevin Harvick
2013 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Last Year's Race Winner: Kevin Harvick

The Likely Suspects: Tighten those belts fans, this race should be an interesting ride. If it's anything like the first two races in this Chase round, the racing should be both chaotic and nail-biting. Oh, and did I mention that things are always a bit chaotic at Dover?  Look for these drivers to run well this weekend: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenneth, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick is last week's race winner and last year's Dover race winner, Kevin Harvick. Jimmie Johnson is always a good bet at Dover, so I will also go with him. If you don't have any Johnson starts left or you are feeling like the No. 48 team has lost its golden horseshoe, then go with Matt Kenseth instead.

My next picks are: Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. If I had a Martin Truex Jr. start left I would pick him instead of Stenhouse Jr. I'll round out my team with Jeff Gordon and Ryan Blaney.  

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon.

Points to Ponder:
  • Over the past three years, Kevin Harvick has had the best loop data driver rating at Dover International Speedway and has led the most laps with 310.    
  • Chase Elliott has the best three-year average finish at Dover with 3.0.
  • Jimmie Johnson has the most wins at Dover with 10.
This weekend Beth Reinke and I will be doing race coverage at Dover. Check back throughout the weekend for articles and photos. Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rookie Stripe: Fuel for Speed -- NASCAR Gasoline

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
by Logan Stewart

I have a little red Prius. She’s six years old and takes unleaded gas. I’ve never named her, though I thought about it a few times. At the gas station, I pull out my credit card and fill her up to her capacity of nine gallons, which usually lasts me almost two weeks, if I’m careful.

Back when I was still learning about NASCAR, I noticed that race cars go through a lot of fuel. So I thought, Stock cars probably run on the same unleaded fuel as my red Prius, right?

Not exactly. Let's put on the brakes and focus on racing fuel.

First-Class Fuels


Sunoco® has been the official fuel of NASCAR since 2004 and is the exclusive gasoline for the three top series -- Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. Estimates vary, but around 5,000 gallons are needed to fuel the Daytona 500, or as much as 450,000 gallons of Sunoco racing fuel in a season for all three series combined. Race teams use Sunoco Green E15, actually green in color, and made specifically for high-performance race engines. According to Sunoco's website, the gasoline is a 98 octane fuel blend and contains 15 percent ethanol by weight to keep moisture out of both gas cans and race cars. The fuel is made at Sunoco’s facility in Pennsylvania and transported cross-country by tanker to every NASCAR race.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
"So how do you make horsepower with racing fuel? Remember the "O" words -- octane and oxygenates. Basically the more fuel and air mixture you can push through an internal combustion engine, along with higher RPM's and a higher compression ratio, then the more horsepower you can generate with it." – Whitfield Oil Company, Sonoco distributor 

High-Octane Handlers

As high-powered as Sunoco racing fuel is, you’ll find some of NASCAR’s most powerful athletes handling it. Gas men, part of the six-man over the wall pit crew, are some of the largest and strongest on the teams. On race days, gas tanks are filled an hour or so prior to the race and put in a staging area in each pit box. Gas runners get the fuel from a fuel distribution area in the infield, which is close to pit road and staffed by Sunoco crew members.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Gas dump cans weigh in around 90-plus pounds when full. During a pit stop, the gas man -- wearing fire retardant protective gear, apron and Nomex® head sock -- will hoist the 12-gallon dump cans over the wall, with the help of other crew members who stay behind the wall. Usually a team will use up to two full cans per pit stop. The gas man empties them into the car’s fuel cell in mere seconds, throwing the cans back over the wall when he’s done with each one. They are caught by pit support crew members, who put the cans on wheeled carts and run them back to the Sunoco fuel station.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
During a pit stop, fueling the car happens in about 12 seconds. In that amount of time, my red Prius and I are probably still sitting at the gas station.

Want to learn more?
For a quick video on the No. 14 team's gas man:
Smokin’ Aces: Life as a NASCAR Gas Man
Read about how teams figure out fuel mileage on NASCAR.com: When Fuel is All that Matters

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Travel Tips: Dover International Speedway – Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
Race No. 3 in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup sees the stars heading to Dover International Speedway in Delaware for the Citizen Soldier 400 weekend, Friday through Sunday, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Also on the schedule for the weekend: the Xfinity Series and the K&N Pro Series East.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, the NASCAR Hauler Parade begins at the Legislative Mall in downtown Dover at 5 p.m. ET. Sprint Cup Series haulers will make their way through downtown Dover and end at the track at approximately 5:45 p.m. ET. Click here to find out more about the event.

Prior to Sunday’s Citizen Solider 400, country star Easton Corbin will perform a free pre-race concert on the Victory Plaza stage at 11 a.m. ET. Corbin will also perform the National Anthem before the race.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 30 –
  • K&N Pro Series East practice – 8 and 9:10 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10 a.m.  ET
  • Xfinity Series practice – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East qualifying – 12:35 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 3:40 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East race – 5 p.m. ET
Saturday, Oct. 1 –
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:45 a.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Drive Sober 200 – 3 p.m. ET
Sunday, Oct. 2 –
  • Sprint Cup Series Citizen Soldier 400 – 2 p.m. ET
Find out more about the race and purchase tickets at http://www.doverspeedway.com/.


Fast Facts Redux: Ty Dillon

Ty Dillon at Darlington, Sept. 2016
credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts & Scuffs
Ty Dillon, driver of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro in the Xfinity Series, has qualified for the inaugural Xfinity Series Chase for the Championship, following a season of 14 top-10 finishes in the regular season. Learn more about this third-generation driver in this week’s Fast Facts, originally published in Aug. 2012.
  • Tyler Dillon was born Feb. 27, 1992 in Lewisville, NC. He is the grandson of Richard Childress, son of Mike Dillon (former Busch Series driver and current general manager for RCR) and brother of Cup Series driver Austin Dillon.
  • Ty Dillon began his racing career in Bandoleros, moving up to the K&N Pro Series East in 2009. In 2010, Dillon spent time in the K&N Pro Series East and the ARCA Racing Series, winning in the K&N Series at Gresham Motorsports Park and twice in ARCA competition, at Kansas Speedway and Rockingham Speedway.
  • Dillon moved to the ARCA Racing Series full-time in 2011. He won seven times and took home the championship in the series, but lost the Rookie of the Year battle to Chris Buescher by two points.
  • After making his Truck Series debut in 2011, Dillon moved to the series full time in 2012, taking over his brother’s championship-winning ride from 2011, winning at Atlanta and winning Rookie of the Year. In 2013, he won at Kentucky and finished second in points.
  • After making his debut in the series in 2012, Dillon moved to the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series full time in 2014, once again replacing brother Austin. He won the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July 2014, and finished second to Chase Elliott in the Rookie of the Year battle. In 2015, he finished third in points without a win.
  • Dillon made his Cup Series debut at Atlanta in 2014, finishing 25th. In addition to RCR, he has also raced for Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (replacing an injured Tony Stewart) and Tommy Baldwin Racing on a limited basis.
  • Dillon married the former Haley Carey on Dec. 20, 2014.
  • Find out more about Ty Dillon at www.tydillonracing.com







Monday, September 26, 2016

Travel Tips: Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Oct. 1, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
The Camping World Truck Series makes a stand-alone appearance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Saturday, Oct. 1, for the DC Solar 350.

The second annual Show and Shine Car Show will be held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. PT in the Fan Engagement Area, with awards being handed out from 3-4 p.m. PT. There will also be a drivers’ autograph session in the Fan Engagement Area at 12:30 p.m. PT.

Key on-track times:
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. PT
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 3:10 p.m. PT
  • Camping World Truck DC Solar 350 – 5:30 p.m. PT
For more information on race day and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.lvms.com/.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers

by Stacey Owens

"You have to believe that you can win or you're not going to do it." That's the sentiment that crew chief Rodney Childers brought to the track this weekend, and it just may be a big part of Kevin Harvick's victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The No. 4 team struggled during the opening race of The Chase last week at Chicagoland Speedway. Without a solid performance this week, Harvick was in danger of not advancing to the Round of 12. As it turns out, there's no cause for concern. With the win, the No. 4 team has secured a spot in that next round.

Childers was asked after the race about that need for something monumental to happen, especially given the issues Harvick had in Chicago.

"You know, the attitude in every morning meeting with the 4 team this week was the different attitude. The attitude when we got here to the racetrack, you have to believe that you can win or you're not going to do it. We felt like we brought a good car here and thought that we could pull off the victory if we did everything right, and it just really came down to doing everything right. It's not always going to be that way, but he [Harvick] definitely steps up to the table, and all my guys do, also, and I think it just works out," Childers said.

Combined with Harvick's ability to close when it counts, Childers had some decisions to make, too. Following a long green run at the beginning of the race, Childers' strategy finally had a chance to shine.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"Well, I figured it would go pretty long there at the beginning, and I thought our car was really good on the long run yesterday, and I thought that would work to our advantage, and it did in a way. He was able to drive his way up through there a good ways. But we got to the point where the car was kind of going away and it wasn't turning the way it needed to. I think the racetrack almost came to us a little bit. The car actually ended up getting loose later on.
            
"But overall, it was a smooth day. I'll be honest with you; not only is the Chase stressful and this format stressful, but racing here is stressful. I used to hate coming here, and then we won here with Brian a few years back, and I've loved it ever since, especially coming here with him. It makes it a lot more fun.
        
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"But you never know what the right thing is. We stayed out a few years ago, and Joey pitted and put four tires on and drove by all of us like we were sitting still. Sometimes you win it by staying out and sometimes you win it by putting tires on, and we talked about it the other day, and we thought tires were the way to go, and then I stayed out and it didn't look like it was going the way I wanted it to, and I thought I gave it away. It really came down to being in the right spot at the right time and him making it happen on the restart," Childers explained.

It helped, of course, that the team brought a great car to the track.

"We had a good car all weekend, and we kept working on it as the day went, and I could kind of tell by looking at our roof camera that we were starting to get a little more even with those guys watching the lap times. I felt like if we could ever get on that front row and have clean air on the nose, we would be in pretty good shape. He did a great job on that last restart and got us in great position," Childers said.

The team is definitely in pretty good shape. Harvick and Childers will no doubt push for another great finish at Dover, but the pressure is off  at least for one more week.

---------------------------------------

     Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.

 
           



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Caution Clock Chaos: William Byron dominates first race of the CWTS Chase

William Byron celebrates after winning the UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Credit: Rainer Ehrhardt 
by Courtney Horn

William Byron dominated at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and became the first Camping World Truck Series driver to secure a position in the inaugural Chase, Round of 6.

Byron lead 161 of 175 laps to secure his sixth victory of the 2016 season. He held a three-second lead for majority of the evening, but won by a 0.446 second margin of victory ahead of teammate Christopher Bell.

“We had a great truck all weekend," Byron said. "We were fortunate enough to test here a couple months ago and came with the right mindset on what changes to make. [We] just executed today, which was really good to see. Just proud of this whole KBM team and Liberty University.”

While Byron cruised to victory, many Chase drivers saw misfortune throughout the UNOH 175.

Brad Keselowski Racing’s Daniel Hemric spun on Lap 25 because of a cut tire that caught on fire, too. Hemric suffered a broken brake line, and returned after repairs to finish 28th. Hemric sits last in the Chase standings, 21 points behind the next round cutoff position.

John Hunter Nemechek was fighting for position with the No. 24 of Kaz Grala before he spun going into the corner. Nemechek battled back for a top 10, finishing ninth.

When Nemechek's No. 8 Chevy spun, Byron lost the lead under the caution, but regained it 15 laps later and held it for the remainder of the event. Byron holds the Chase standings lead by 16 points over two-time CWTS Champion, Matt Crafton.

A Look Forward to the Chase

The Camping World Truck Series heads to Las Vegas for the second race of the Chase. John Wes Townley earned his first series win a year ago at the track after leading 23 laps.

Five current Chase contenders (Peters, Kennedy, Nemechek, Hemric and Crafton) earned top-10 finishes at Las Vegas last season and will be looking for a victory to secure themselves into the next round of the inaugural Chase.

Catch Byron and the other seven Chase contenders as they battle it out at Vegas on Oct. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Judgment Day: Five Questions for New Hampshire and Kentucky

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
It’s all about the Chase, baby.

While we tend to focus on the overly-entertaining Sprint Cup Series, the two lower series have battles brewing, and they need a little love, too.

Chase season is officially underway, and there’s no telling what will happen next. Who emerges as a title favorite in the first playoff race for the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series? Are there non-Chasers in Cup that will shake things up? This sport is full of storylines, but will any of them come to fruition?

You can’t really predict these things – but that won't stop me from trying. Here’s this week’s edition of Five Questions.

Is Byron the title favorite? The NCWTS is preparing for battle, with a stacked field of eight fighting for the title. At the top of the Chase Grid is William Byron, the young Kyle Busch Motorsports wheelman who nearly has Rookie of the Year locked up. He came in and tore apart the competition during the regular season. As he enters the Chase as the top seed, many expect him to be the one to beat. That’s great and all, but is his success sustainable for the long haul? Yes, but it won’t be easy to cultivate; the other seven contenders are there for a reason, you know. Matt Crafton is right on his heels, and he knows how to win a title. You have other young guns that are just as hungry. Teammate Christopher Bell has the same speed and driving style, while John Hunter Nemechek has an undeniable on-track ferocity. Byron might be the favorite, but you can’t give him the championship just yet.

With Kentucky as the Chase opener, can Xfinity find its groove? The Xfinity Series Chase also kicks off this weekend, and it will definitely stand out. While Trucks and Sprint Cup head to New Hampshire, Xfinity takes center stage in Kentucky. The field of 12 races Saturday night in a bluegrass battle – or will they? It is hard to predict because the series hasn’t been up to par. Since Elliott Sadler’s win at Darlington Raceway, it seems like the series regulars are going through the motions and not creating much drama. Things should ramp up this weekend, especially with Kentucky’s surface. Many drivers were playing it safe, trying to keep their Chase slots. Now that fear is gone, and it's time to focus on that championship. Hard racing will be abundant this weekend. Only one Cup driver, Ryan Blaney, is slated to do double duty, and many low-seeded Chase contenders are ready to prove they are in the championship fight for a reason. Brennan Poole is fantastic at Kentucky, while Brendan Gaughan wants to prove he’s not retiring for a reason. Once the Chase starts, we’ll see it was worth watching drivers play it safe.

When the going gets tough, who gets going? The Sprint Cup Series started their Chase last week, and it didn’t go well for a few drivers. Kevin Harvick had a terrible race; he started from the back, and failed to get better. He finished 20th, a bit off from the “raging bull” mentality he claimed to use for the 10-race playoff. Jimmie Johnson faltered as well, leading plenty of laps yet committing a speeding penalty in the race’s late stages. Other drivers who didn’t do so hot include Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon. Can anyone in this group recover in New England? Harvick has the best shot, considering his solid record at Loudon – one victory, eight top fives, and 16 top 10s. Long story short, he’s good. Johnson boasts strong stats as well, wielding three wins, 10 top fives, and 19 top 10s. A recovery is in the cards. However, the other three have a challenge on their hands. Out of that trio, Larson has the most momentum and team unity at this point. His first win pushed him forward, as if solidifying his status as a Cup driver. He drives with more confidence, and that’s not good for everyone else. Sometimes adversity propels people forward – yet only a few know how to do it correctly.

Can non-Chasers disrupt the flow in Sprint Cup? Spoiler alert: there are more than just 16 cars participating in the next 10 races. That became apparent last weekend when three non-Chase drivers – Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Alex Bowman – infiltrated the top 10. Just look at that group. Blaney was in the running to make the Chase, and he has the speed and ability to capture a victory. Meanwhile, Kahne’s playoff chances were crushed at Richmond after a phenomenal run. Their team spent the entire regular season trying to get it right, and they might have hit on something. Bowman is the most impressive driver in this contingent, as he is going above and beyond his job of simply filling in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He isn’t just keeping the seat warm, he’s auditioning for his next gig. He does a dang good job, too. These three have what it takes to break up the Chase party, so don’t be surprised to see their names in the top 10 – or even victory lane – sometime soon.

Did NASCAR just earn some credibility? NASCAR made changes to the post-race inspection protocol this week, sparked by Johnson and winner Martin Truex, Jr. failing the laser portion after Chicagoland. The sanctioning body adjusted the prerequisites for penalization, something other drivers complained about throughout the year. The immediate reaction from fans is that it was too late, and the constant corrections from NASCAR are both confusing and deterring. That’s how I felt, too – but then I stopped myself. The fact they admitted a mistake and made adjustments is a gleaming example of progress. It’s okay for them to mess up – it is a sport run by humans, and there’s bound to be lapses in judgment. For the first time in a while, they owned up to it. I see it as growth, and I hope the drivers, media, and fans do, too. Judgment Day came knocking at NASCAR’s door, and they shocked a lot of people. I approve.

TV Schedule: Sept. 23-25

New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR splits its time this weekend. The Sprint Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series converge on New Hampshire Motor Speedway while the XFINITY Series takes over Kentucky Speedway for a standalone event.

The following is handy guide to track events and television coverage at New Hampshire and Kentucky. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Sept. 23:
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
8:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN
10 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice (re-air), NBCSN

Saturday, Sept. 24:
9 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, CNBC
12:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series SetUp, FS1
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: UNOH 175, FS1
4:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6 p.m., XFINITY Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN
7:30 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
8 p.m., NASCAR XFINITY Series: VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300, NBCSN

Sunday, Sept. 25:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Bad Boy Off Road 300, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
6 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap (re-air), NBCSN
1 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, September 22, 2016

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: New England 300 at New Hampshire


Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Chicagoland Speedway  Darlington Raceway • Homestead-Miami Speedway • Kansas Speedway •  Kentucky Speedway 
Las Vegas Motor Speedway • Texas Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.058 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Jimmie Johnson - 4
All with 3 - Brad Keselowski, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle,
Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards
All with 2 - Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman,
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne

By Track
All with 6 - Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson
All with 5 - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano
Both with 4 - Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards

Recent Pole Winners:  
2015 Carl Edwards
2014 Brad Keselowski

Last Year's Race Winner: Matt Kenseth

The Likely Suspects:  Penalties have been playing a critical role for race teams since Richmond. As the Chase moves to the "Magic Mile" the heat will be on. In order to move into the next round, drivers need to have a clean day in Richmond or they will be banking on Dover (no pun intended!) Look for these drivers to run well this weekend: Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.

My 2 Cents: At this juncture in the season the tendency is to focus on Chasers for your fantasy picks. However, picking for bonus point likeliness or choosing a non-Chaser sleeper may get you more points in the long run.

My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. My next choices are Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray. I'll round out my team with Cole Whitt and Ryan Blaney.

My Final Four: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

Points to Ponder:
  • Twenty drivers have Coors Light poles at New Hampshire, led by Ryan Newman with seven.
  • Four active drivers have multiple poles at Loudon: Ryan Newman (seven), Jeff Gordon (four), Brad Keselowski (three) and Kyle Busch (two).
  • Eight active drivers have multiple wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS): Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart (each have three); Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano (each have two). 
  • Three drivers have posted consecutive wins at NHMS: Jimmie Johnson (2003 sweep), Kurt Busch (2004 sweep) and Matt Kenseth (2015 fall, 2016 spring). 
  • Jimmie Johnson leads the Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at New Hampshire with a 10.190. 
  • The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (five) than any other starting position at NHMS.   
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Faith on the Frontstretch: Truex Jr. Calls Winning at Chicagoland a “Total Team Effort”

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates with his team at Chicagoland, Sept. 18, 2016.
Credit: Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images  
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b

The first Chase race of 2016 is history with Martin Truex Jr. taking home not only the checkered flag, but also a fun Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle trophy. In several post-race interviews, Truex Jr. was quick to deflect applause from himself to his entire team.

“There are so many people who are responsible for this,” he said. “And I’m glad I get to drive this 78 with Cole Pearn (crew chief) and everybody on this team.” He thanked the fans, his sponsors, team owner Barney Visser, Toyota Racing Development, partner Joe Gibbs Racing and people behind the scenes, too.

“All in all, just an unbelievable day,” Truex Jr. said. “It was a total team effort. That’s what it’s going to take to win the championship.”

His comments aren’t unique because NASCAR racing is always a team effort. When every team member is on the same wavelength and working wholeheartedly in his or her role, things click into place. The group accomplishes feats that would be impossible for individual members to do on their own. In fact, if the No. 78 team had been missing the contribution of even a single member — an engineer, a tire changer, a mechanic — it could have thwarted their efforts and changed the race outcome.

There are other places where people work together to make an organization run smoothly — families, schools, our military and even churches. The Bible makes an analogy between the human body and the church. Your body has myriad parts that work together, and so does the church.

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, TLB)

That last phrase, “body of Christ,” means the church — the people of the church, not the brick-and-mortar building. Each person is an essential, unique “body part” of the church family. Each person has a specific role or two to fill, just like crew members on a race team. One may teach Sunday School or help with the youth group. Another might design the church website, visit church members who are sick or organize a food pantry.

Sometimes there’s a special job to do at a church, and no one has the distinct abilities that are required. Could it be that God is calling someone else to join the church team and fulfill that role?

The No. 78 team combined their talents to produce a fast car and a winning strategy. Likewise, church folks team up to serve God by loving other people. And while only a select few live and work on the NASCAR circuit, everyone can connect at a local church.

Churches in your community are full of like-minded people who would welcome you. What if you are the missing team member who’s needed to do an extraordinary thing? No matter what you enjoy doing, there’s a way you can serve.

Are you ready to take part in a “total team effort” at church? God has a special starting spot waiting just for you.

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them... ~ Romans 12:4-6a (RSV)
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“Faith on the Frontstretch” explores the role of faith in motorsports and runs every 1st & 3rd Wednesday of the month during the NASCAR season. Follow Beth on twitter at @bbreinke.

Want more racing devotions? When you donate $25 to Skirts and Scuffs, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Beth’s book, Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a month-long, pocket-sized devotional book for NASCAR fans. Or you can purchase the book in paperback & ebook here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Travel Tips: Kentucky Speedway – Sept. 23-24, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
The Xfinity Series has a stand-alone race this weekend, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23-24, at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta - this is the first race in the Xfinity Series' Chase for the Championship. The ARCA Racing Series is also on the racing schedule this weekend.

On Saturday, RacingJunk.com sponsors a car show at the Speedway, with registration beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET and judging taking place from 1-4 p.m. ET. Your $39 registration fee includes two race tickets for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 23 –
  • ARCA Racing Series practice – 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Nationwide Series practice – 3:30 and 6 p.m. ET
  • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 4:40 p.m. ET
  • ARCA Racing Series Crosley 150 – 8 p.m. ET
Saturday, Sept. 24 –
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 – 8 p.m. ET
Check out the fan guide for Kentucky Speedway here. Information on coolers and what can be brought into the track can be found here.

For additional information on Kentucky Speedway, and to purchase tickets and Fan Zone passes, visit http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com/

Fast Facts: The Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series Chases



We’re all familiar with the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but this year, NASCAR has added the Chase for the Championship format to the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. This week’s Fast Facts will update you on the players and the game in the first year of these two playoffs.

credit: NASCAR Media

  • The Xfinity Series Chase features 12 drivers racing for the championship over a span of seven races. After the first three races – Kentucky, Dover, and Charlotte – the field is narrowed down to eight drivers, and after the next three races – Kansas, Texas and Phoenix – the field is narrowed down to the Championship Four – the four drivers competing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  • Much like the Chase for the Sprint Cup, eligible Xfinity Series drivers (those competing for points) earn three bonus points for every win during the “regular season.” Erik Jones is the No. 1 seed going into Kentucky with his points reset at 2012 points (12 bonus points for four wins), while Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez go in with 2003 points (three points for one win by each driver). Rounding out the field based on points, with points reset to 2000 points, are Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brendan Gaughan, Brennan Poole, Ryan Seig, Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Blake Koch.

credit: NASCAR Media

  • The Camping World Truck Series Chase features eight drivers racing for the championship over a span of seven races. After the first three races – New Hampshire, Las Vegas and Talladega – the field is narrowed down to six drivers, and after the next three races – Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix – the field is narrowed down to the Championship Four – the four drivers competing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  • The Truck Series also uses the three-point-bonus system for eligible Truck Series drivers (those competing for points) with wins during the “regular season.” William Byron is the No. 1 seed with his points reset at 2015 points (15 bonus points for five wins), followed by Matt Crafton and John Hunter Nemechek with 2006 points (six bonus points for two wins each). Christopher Bell, Johnny Sauter and Ben Kennedy each enter the Chase with 2003 points (three bonus points for one win each), and Daniel Hemric and Timothy Peters, each reset to 2000 points, round out the field based on “regular season” points.
Follow all of the NASCAR Chases at www.skirtsandscuffs.com

Monday, September 19, 2016

Travel Tips: New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Sept. 23-25, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
The Sprint Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH for the second race in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the New England 300. The race weekend, Friday through Sunday, Sept. 23-25, will also feature the Camping World Truck Series, the Whelen Modified Tour and the American-Canadian Tour (ACT).

On Thursday, Sept. 22, the NASCAR Hauler Parade gets underway at 6 p.m. ET.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 23 –
  • Whelen Modified Tour practice – 10 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour qualifying – 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET
Saturday, Sept. 24 –
  • ACT practice – 8 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 9 and 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10:05 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 – 1 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour F.W. Webb 100 – 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Bond Auto Parts ACT Invitational – 5 p.m. ET
Sunday, Sept. 25 –
  • Pre-race concert with Cheap Trick – 11 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series New England 300 – 2 p.m. ET
Find a detailed schedule of events here.

To purchase tickets for the Sylvania 300 weekend, or to learn more about NHMS, visit http://www.nhms.com/

Caution Clock Chaos: Kyle Busch earns CWTS victory at Chicagoland


Kyle Busch claims the checkered flag with CWTS victory at Chicagoland.
Photo by: Brian Lawdermilk

by Courtney Horn

Kyle Busch dominated at Chicagoland Speedway during Friday night’s American Ethanol e15 225, leading 95 laps for his 46th Camping World Truck Series career victory.

"This has just been a really good place for us and for KBM over the years," Busch said. "We’ve been really fast here, so it was really nice to come out here and keep that speed going.”

While Busch secured his second victory this season, all eyes were on Chase hopefuls still fighting to secure their position in the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase.

Daniel Hemric and Timothy Peters obtained the remaining two slots inside the eight seed Chase field with top-10 finishes. Hemric earned his ninth top-5 finish this season with a second. Peters, who hit the wall on Lap 66, overcame tire issues to finish sixth.

Ben Kennedy, who secured a spot in the Chase with his Bristol victory, walked away from a big crash on Lap 112 with his hand tapped up. Kennedy spun several times after the No. 21 of Johnny Sauter got loose and made contact while going three wide. The incident brought out a red flag while crewmen repaired the wall.

"I bruised up my hand a little bit," Kennedy said. He finished 26th.

Cole Custer finished ninth, but failed to make the Chase after making contact with Grant Enfinger and later suffering a flat tire.

Red Horse Racing driver Matt Tifft earned himself a 12th place finish in his first race since having brain surgery to remove a tumor on July 1, 2016.

“I think the reason I was able to make such a quick return was just the support I had from family and friends and just the motivation to get back to racing,” Tiff said prior to Friday’s event, “It’s one of my favorite things to do and I love racing. My passion is racing.”

A Look Forward to the Chase

The inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase begins September 24 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. William Byron holds the top spot inside the Chase despite his struggles and finishing 30th.

Last year, Matt Crafton finished second. Can he be the first one to secure his ticket to the next round? Or will a non-Chase driver be a spoiler in the first race inside the Chase? Anything can happen so don’t miss the action on Fox Sports 1.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the #TMNT400 Winning Crew Chief, Cole Pearn

by Stacey Owens

In the racing world, it's often said that it doesn't matter how many laps you lead as long as you lead the last one. Martin Truex Jr. may not have led the most laps in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400, the opening race of The Chase at Chicagoland Speedway, but he didn't have to, because he led the final lap. With this win, Truex automatically advances to the next round and is one step closer to what could be his first championship.
 
For much of the race, it certainly didn't look like Truex would end his day in Victory Lane. Both he and crew chief Cole Pearn worked throughout the afternoon to fight adversity, which included a tire doing down and contact from Kevin Harvick.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"We had the inside of the right front unravel there when we were running the 48 back down for the lead. We were really fortunate we had a really good car. We were able to get back there and get the Lucky Dog, which was huge, got back on the lead lap," Pearn said. "We had the deal with the 4 (Harvick) there. Still don't know what that was about. Had some left rear damage which slowed us up for a bit. Once we got through that, the speed came back.
            
"I feel bad for the 24. I don't think there was any way we were going to get them. We've been on the other side of that a lot. Credit to the pit crew for getting us off pit road first there. Martin did a hell of a job on the restart."

As in previous races, tire wear became an issue. Multiple drivers saw significant wear on their tires, so when the caution flags flew, track position was secondary to getting new tires.

"I think we wanted the fresh tires no matter what," Pearn said. "We talked for a while about doing the opposite. I think with the amount of laps, the tires was going to be the right call. Nice to have faith in your pit crew, nice for them to hit it at the right time. Makes things so much easier ... You talk about all the scenarios. Obviously it's harder. As it gets down, there's less laps. If there's 10 laps to go or something like that, you have 20 laps left on the tires, it's an easier call. As much falloff as we were seeing today, it made it much easier to come and get tires."

Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images
With their automatic bid to the second round of The Chase, will the No. 78 team race any differently for the next two weeks?

"You still got to go plug away and have clean weeks. If you're fortunate enough to get wins, you keep potentially other people from getting in," Pearn said. "You still got to go and race hard for sure. It's hard to turn it off and on in this sport. We'll definitely keep plugging away.
            
"It's such a swing of events. That caution doesn't come out, we run second, we got to be stressed pretty hard the next two weeks. Now we breathe a little bit easier.
            
"I think the second round bodes really well for us. We have strong tracks in that round. Hopefully we can prepare for that and be in good shape when they come."

So far, this team is in better shape than the rest of those on the Chase grid. Who will join them in advancing to the next round? 
 
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     Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.

 
           




Friday, September 16, 2016

Chicago Clash: Five Questions for Chicagoland

(Credit: Johnathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
by Kristen Schneider

Even with everything going on in this crazy world, NASCAR saves the day.

The top three series do battle in Joliet, Illinois and prepare for a thrilling end to the 2016 season. As Trucks and Xfinity set their inaugural Chase fields, Sprint Cup is already a step ahead. For 36 drivers, the stressful part is set to begin.

As I think about NASCAR competition, it’s always interesting to think of situations with an outside perspective and apply it to a bigger picture. Sport lends itself well to this crazy life we’re all living.

I discuss that and more in this week’s Five Questions. Let’s get at it.

Could Cole Custer pull off a Chase-worthy run? After the incident at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, JR Motorsports driver Custer sat outside the Camping World Truck Series top eight. This weekend was his final shot to make the Chase field – and a familiar face was in his way. John Hunter Nemechek was eighth in the standings, six points ahead of Custer. What a coincidence. Although he might have wanted to retaliate against Nemechek, the youngster had to focus on the task at hand, and that was winning. With his 2017 plans set, Custer probably wanted a championship to sweeten the season even more. He wouldn't have contended for that if he'd allowed his hot head to prevail. Although Custer did keep his head, it was not his night. Despite a valiant effort all the way to the green-white-checkered end, his ninth-place finish wasn't enough to get him into the Chase. 

Will Chicagoland become “the race” for Xfinity? The potential for a fantastic weekend is there, and NASCAR nation is on the edge of its seat to watch it unfold. The Friday and Saturday races hold the most weight, and their inaugural Chase fields are set after the events. The NASCAR Xfinity Series needs an event that sets itself apart from its parent series. Can Chicagoland Speedway’s slot on the schedule be that race? The answer is no – for this season, at least. Their 12-car field is practically set, not easily lending itself to drama. There’s also the issue of a Sprint Cup regular most likely winning, but don’t get me started on that topic. If NASCAR tweaks the Xfinity Series Chase format a bit – such as cutting the field down – this race next year will be one fans circle on their calendars. However, the Chicago Clash doesn’t garner much praise when it comes to the second-tier series.

How will the RFR Xfinity fare in last regular season event? Two of the most interesting tenants in the 2016 Xfinity Chase are Ryan Reed and Darrell Wallace, Jr. The Roush Fenway Racing drivers are closing in on making the field – something their Sprint Cup counterparts failed to do. This unique situation makes me wonder how the young stars will do, and if they have a shot at the title. Unfortunately, that might be an empty claim. Wallace’s season has been inconsistent thus far, with good runs peppered into a bunch of 20th-place finishes. It doesn’t feel like a championship-like season for him, but anything can happen. Reed, however, has had his best season to date. Although he has only one top five and four top 10s, he's shown consistency. He spent the majority of 2016 hovering around 12th place, and that was good enough to put him in the 12-car field. With his success new, it’s a stretch to say Reed will contend for the title – but anything can happen. That’s why there’s a Chase, right?

Which first-time Chaser has the best shot at contending? Talk about a stacked Cup field, right? It’s insane to look at the fresh faces in the field. Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are all making their first appearance in the Chase field, and their average age is, like, 12. Despite being awestruck, I have to wonder who is there to fill spaces, and who is there to actually contend. When comparing competitive rides and year-long performance, it basically comes down to Larson and Elliott. Shocked, right? Larson has come alive since his first win, and it’s hard to deny the young man’s determination, which goes a long way in racing. Elliott, on the other hand, hasn’t won (yet) and beats himself up pretty freakin’ hard. His multiple top-three and top-five finishes make it hard to doubt his abilities. Hendrick Motorsports’ equipment is superior to Chip Ganassi Racing’s, which gives Elliott the ultimate advantage. HMS didn’t show much "oomph" during the middle stretch of the year, but they’re notorious for laying low until later on. Larson might have that win and momentum, but Elliott has the power and hunger.

Are Ryan Newman’s comments going to fade away? This is a topic that’s difficult to address because I still have a hard time believing Newman made those comments. I can’t stop thinking about them, even after NASCAR called he and Tony Stewart into the hauler Friday afternoon for a “quick discussion.” The two are over it, I get that – but I’m not. Newman’s comments were influenced by anger, but they were still off the wall and completely inappropriate. It rubs me the wrong way. This isn’t to say that I wanted NASCAR to fine Newman. He’s allowed to speak freely, and it didn’t help that Newman didn’t see the replay before getting thrust in front of the camera. Penalizing him would limit his free speech. However, this isn’t going away, even if the two are good now. That video clip will be around forever and continue to harm both Stewart and Newman’s reputations after they’re out of the sport. This whole situation just shows that anger isn’t an excuse. Emotions run high, and that’s what we love about racing. However, sport is a microcosm of society, meaning this situation reflects what’s going on in the world. It makes you think about what you say, and the when and why of it all. Keep that in mind when you want to scream your face off – and maybe Newman will remember it, too. 

TV Schedule: Sept. 16-18

Chicagoland Speedway. Credit:  Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

The Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off at Chicagoland. Sixteen drivers battle it out at the 1.5-mile track to see who will win the first event in the 10-race playoffs.

The XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series also converge on the Windy City.

The following is a handy guide to track events, television and online coverage at Chicagoland. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Sept. 16:
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBC Sports App
3 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBC Sports App
4:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
8 p.m. Camping World Truck Series SetUp, FS1
8:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: American Ethanol E15 225, FS1

Saturday, Sept. 17:
10:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
11:45 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBC Sports App
Noon XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBC
3:15 p.m. XFINITY Series: Drive for Safety 300, NBC
9 p.m. Whelen Series Utah Motorsports Campus (taped), NBCSN
10 p.m. Whelen Series Utah Motorsports Campus (taped), NBCSN

Sunday, Sept. 18:
9 a.m. Camping World Truck Series: American Ethanol E15 225, FS1
Noon NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400, NBCSN
6 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
9:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
11 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, September 15, 2016

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Chase Round 1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland


Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Darlington Raceway  Homestead-Miami Speedway • Kansas Speedway • Kentucky Speedway
Las Vegas Motor Speedway  • New Hampshire Motor Speedway • Texas Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.5 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Brad Keselowski - 5
All with 4 -  Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch
All with 3 - Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenneth, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer  

By Track
Both with 4 - Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch
All with 3 - Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano

Recent Pole Winners:
2015 Rained Out
2014 Rained Out
2013 Joey Logano

Last Year's Race Winner: Denny Hamlin

The Likely Suspects: Year three of The Chase should be the best yet. It will be interesting to see whether the headlines will be stolen by non-Chase drivers or the two rookies that made it into the playoffs. Look for these drivers to perform well: Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick is Brad Keselowski. My next picks are Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. I will complete my team with Ryan Blaney and David Ragan.

My Final Four: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney

Points to Ponder:
  • Joe Gibbs Racing has the most wins at Chicago in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with five: Tony Stewart (two), Kyle Busch (one), Matt Kenseth (one) and Denny Hamlin (one).
  • Team Penske has the second most wins with three; followed by Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports with two each at Chicago in the NSCS.
  • 11 drivers have posted Coors Light poles at Chicago, led by Jimmie Johnson with two. 
  • Only three of the 11 Chicago NSCS winners have multiple wins; led by Tony Stewart with three (2004, 2007, 2011); followed by Kevin Harvick with two (first two series events at the speedway; 2001 and 2002) and Brad Keselowski with two (2012 and 2014). 
  • Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at 9.286. He also leads all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Chicagoland with 577 laps.
  • Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart lead the series in top-10 finishes at Chicago with 10 each; followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick with nine each.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.