Categories
XFINITY

Allgaier, Koch in Precarious Position after Texas

Justin Allgaier and Blake Koch collected solid finishes at Texas Motor Speedway – finishing 10th and 14th, respectively – but their Chase situations are anything but stable.

Koch’s weekend got off to a rocky start when he wrecked during practice, but his backup car didn’t disappoint in qualifying. The Kaulig Racing Chevrolet started 12th Saturday afternoon and hung around the top 15 until he feared tire issues. After pitting for a fresh set and going a lap down, Koch worked his way back up into the top 20 before a speeding penalty halted his progress. He used the last 50 laps to climb through the field and bring the No. 11 home in 14th.

Koch praised his team for overcoming the rough start to the weekend, saying, “I’m so proud of my team for rebounding off of that and getting out the backup car. They had it out before I even got my car back into the garage.”

The Texas result places him fourth on the Chase Grid, one point above the cut line. Koch knows his championship position isn’t ideal, yet he is grateful for the finish and some momentum for next week’s cutoff race at Phoenix International Raceway

“To come out of here with a top 15 and still in the Chase, I couldn’t be any more pumped and proud. We have a great Phoenix car, and we have a great Phoenix backup,” he said. “We’re ready, and it’s one of my best racetracks … I feel like I’ve gotten so much better as a driver. We’ve gotten so much better as a team at that point. I can’t wait to see what we look like at Phoenix.”

Allgaier’s day went a lot smoother than Koch’s; the JR Motorsports Chevrolet started sixth and stayed in the top 10 throughout the afternoon. The No. 7 team executed consistent stops and avoided trouble, finishing 10th.  Although he gave a stout performance, Allgaier sits one point below the cutoff line – meaning he and Koch will go against each other next weekend.

The JRM driver is confident in his team after this weekend and hopes to leave Phoenix with a trophy.

“We executed and came away with a top 10 finish. I’m very proud to drive this car,” he said, adding,” Phoenix was one of the tracks that I had circled in the Chase as I’ve always done well there.”

There is a lot of positivity surrounding their respective situations, and both feel their teams are prepared for whatever comes their way. Winning would be the best Chase scenario for Allgaier and Koch.

However, the JRM driver is hoping for another outcome – one that would benefit both him and Koch.

“I get to race my buddy Blake Koch for the final spot. I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “Hopefully, something happens, and we both get in.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Veterans Unlikely Underdogs in CWTS Chase Field

Even with an influx of young guns dominating the Camping World Truck Series Chase Grid, three mainstays prepare to battle for the championship title.

An exciting CWTS event at Chicagoland Speedway ended with Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters finishing within the top 10, while an early accident relegated Matt Crafton to 27th. However, none of that matters now as all three prepare to chase the series title. NASCAR arranged the Chase field by wins, placing Crafton in second. Sauter earned a fifth-place seeding, while Peters starts the championship battle in eighth.

Experience is critical in racing, and these three have it; the trio holds 36 full-time CWTS season between them, with 34 victories as added bonuses. Their stats impress, but it will take more to overthrow the youngsters; with their independent organizations and advanced age, these three are suddenly the underdogs.

The Chase format – and tracks within that format –favor young drivers; New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Martinsville Speedway require aggressive racing, something this young crop does very well. William Byron and Christopher Bell‘s driving styles are nearly identical to team owner Kyle Busch’s. John Hunter Nemechek is kind of tough, too – ask Cole Custer for some clarification. They are all willing to take necessary risks and put their trucks where the veterans wouldn’t dare.

Although that is true, the three elder statesmen are some of the toughest in NASCAR competition. You won’t see Sauter ease up for a competitor, whether it be the second lap or the 202nd. Crafton and Peters aren’t complacent, either. With their extensive résumés comes a low tolerance for uncalculated moves. Their equipment may not include Sprint Cup Series-affiliated engines, yet they still compete for victories on a regular basis. That shows not only their teams’ strength but also the individual drivers’ ability to wheel their truck through the field.

Battling older drivers sounds easy – until you realize they’re all tough as nails and will probably put you in the wall for the win. That will most likely happen on more than one occasion during the final seven races; victories are crucial to advancing in this championship format and offer a sense of security. Talladega and Martinsville could quickly derail someone’s title run with their unpredictable nature. Good thing Crafton, Sauter, and Peters run well at these venues. The No. 88 can find victory lane at Martinsville or Texas Motor Speedway. Sauter mirrors the same strengths. Peters is a force everywhere, but Talladega is circled on his calendar. Add in the fact he hasn’t won in 2016, and you have a driver with a gnawing hunger. The most foreboding tracks are where these three flourish – and that helps their Chase chances.

Crafton, Sauter, and Peters represent the older, independent crowd; ThorSport Racing, GMS Racing, and Red Horse Racing lack Cup Series ties, a rarity in the championship field. Their Chase presence is noteworthy, yes, but can it be fruitful with a bunch of college-aged kids breathing down their necks? The young crowd’s aggression combats the veterans’ experience, but the No. 88, No. 21, and No. 17 will rise to the front in no time. They can be just as fierce and hungry for wins.

Although it may be easy to pick a young gun for the championship, there’s no question that Crafton, Sauter, and Peters won’t make it easy for him.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Editorial

The State of NASCAR is Pretty Dang Good Entering 2015

For all the controversy and nitpicking surrounding every decision the front-office makes, the state of NASCAR is quite strong entering the 2015 season.

While every new campaign presents a fair amount of optimism and excitement, there is a novel enthusiasm surrounding the buildup to Speedweeks and the Daytona 500. The new championship format contains promise, rivalries have simmered, and parity remains at an all-time high.

Following a season of close finishes, pit road brawls and an engaging championship battle, there is a resounding sense of “what next” on the horizon.

It has almost become cliche in the modern NASCAR but winning is indeed paramount. And while it wasn’t entirely reflected in the Championship Four upon first glance, it was vital when considering how winning one of those last four events could have altered seasons and careers.

Traditionalists continue to insist that the format is artificial — and there is an element of truth to that statement.

However, the new Chase has also brought the sport closer to roots and tradition than it has been in quite a long time. The current NASCAR reflects well to an era where every lap mattered, second-place was the first loser, and every position on the track was worth fighting over.

In short, NASCAR is trending towards tradition … and not farther away from it.

The current car, the Gen 6, remains a work in progress. The second season under the new car was an imporvement over the first — and perhaps most importantly — it remained a vast improvement over the seven-year Car of Tomorrow experiment.

If NASCAR officials could go back in time, they would surely admit their desire to prevent teams from discovering aerodynamics or the development of so many-cookie-cutter intermediate facilities that now litter the schedule.

But they can’t.

Like the rest of us, they are stuck in this current life-cycle of tracks and contracts but are doing their best to make the most of it until the sport course corrects itself. In the meantime, those in charge have introduced additional road course events, a return to dirt and have considered adding heat races to the mix.

This may come as a surprise but NASCAR indeed listens to its hearty fan-base more than many observers give them credit for — sometimes to the detriment of the sport itself.

The relentless desire from those in Charlotte and Daytona to appease everyone has led to constant and dizzying tweaking of the rules and regulations. In a sport defined by fractions of an inch, NASCAR has much to regulate. When it comes to the competition package, they should be commended for their efforts.

Conversely, the NASCAR Intergrated Marketing Communications (IMC) squad can be a little guilty of over-hyping aspects of the product that would otherwise stand on its own merit. Must everything be a brand and have a trending on Twitter catchphrase, passed along to the teams and suggested to the media?

Let the product breathe a smidgen. When fans have to be told how great something is, it is their natural inclination is to reject it outright.

Make no mistake, NASCAR as a whole was a lot of fun to experience in 2014. The entire year was a step in the right direction and you can’t help but feel like this is a product on the verge of regaining some national attention. But truthfully, it doesn’t matter if the hipster-like mass sporting audience comes back or not.

Despite all the changes over the past several years, this is still a sport built for racing fans and that foundation remains strong. Onward to 2015, a new season, and a new POPULAR SPEED.

Let’s rock.

Categories
Editorial

Owens: NASCAR Has Something with New Chase

By Chris Owens – There’s been a longing for excitement and drama for years. Some begged and pleaded with the sanctioning body. They brought about a new car, new rules, just about new everything and none of that has worked.

Enter NASCAR’s newest format to determine a champion and, finally, here is the excitement that keeps everyone on the edge of your seat and talking throughout the week.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup has been around for a decade now and for a decade, NASCAR heard so much criticism and complaint from fans new and old. Hell, fans have allegedly tuned out the sport and stopped watching altogether.

Yet finally there is a Chase for the Sprint Cup that is entertaining after eight races. Yes, many fondly remember the battle in 2004 between @KurtBusch, @JeffGordonWeb and @JimmieJohnson. Or remember the battle in 2011 between Carl Edwards and @TonyStewart. But this Chase is different.

NASCAR has finally found something with this present format. From emotions to fighting, the sport of NASCAR is at an all time high right now with excitement. What has been witnessed the last ten weeks has to go down as some of the greatest times in the history of this sport.

When NASCAR announced this version of its “playoff” system, many people were up in arms over it. Fans where ready to leave the sport for good. Personally, I had my concerns and still do.

Yes, there are a few tweaks to the system that would be nice to see, but the present format has proven in just eight races that this is what NASCAR has lacked since the Chase inception back in 2004.

Sunday night, for the second time in a month, Chase drivers found themselves enthralled in a post-race brawl on pit road. Emotions getting the best of them, because of the championship situation, drivers duked it out on pit road because of the championship.

For a sport, that’s has been known to be boring to people outside of the racing world, Charlotte, and now Texas has thrust the sport into the worldwide spotlight once again. It is owed to this new format.

The jury is still out about the way we determine a champion. Wanting to see how this thing shakes out in two weeks time. But for now, what’s been witnessed these first eight races, there is a lot to like.

Drivers going for the win and no longer thing about “a good points day,” pushing themselves to the limit. That’s what everyone came here to see correct?

While we might not agree with how we determine a champion, one simply can’t deny that the product it has produced hasn’t entertained them.

Simply put, if you don’t like that, you need to check your pulse, because you’re not alive.

EMAIL CHRIS AT chris.owens@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ChrisOwens62

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Life on The Bubble: Clinch Scenarios

By Matt Weaver — The Chase started with 16 teams earlier in the month but that number will be whittled down to 12 following the AAA 400 Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Due to victories at Chicagoland and New Hampshire respectively, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have already advanced to the so-called Contender Round.

Several other championship favorites will advance with top-15 finishes while the remainder of the initial playoff field will be fighting for their championship lives on Sunday afternoon. The bottom nine teams are separated by just 12 points and several superstar drivers currently find themselves on the outside looking in.

Here are the clinch scenarios going into the final race of the Challenger Round:

Keselowski and Logano have both advanced. They will take part in the Round of 12 regardless of what happens on Sunday at Dover.

Kevin Harvick needs to finish 34th or better or 35th should he lead a lap. If he leads the most laps, he will need to finish just 36th. Six-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson must finish 24th or better or 25th if he leads a lap’ 26th for the most laps.

Both Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. share the exact same clinch scenarios. Should they finish 21st or better, 22nd with a lap led or 23rd with the most laps led, they advance to the second round. Jeff Gordon needs to finish 14th or better, 15th with a lap led or 16th with the most laps led.

In other words, these drivers have room for error but likely cannot afford an early DNF. The final nine drivers are on the metaphorical bubble and face the most pressure entering the third race of the Chase for the Championship.

Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards will only control their destinies with spectacular performances at Dover. They will automatically advance with a second place finish or better or third if one of the two leads the most laps. Similarly, AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne can automatically clinch with a second-place finish.

That doesn’t mean they cannot advance if they fail to meet these criteria. It just means that advancement will be dependent on where the remainder of the Chase field finishes after the race.

Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola only control their own destiny by winning outright, regardless of where the finish in the championship standings. Without a win, these five drivers will need to outpoint the first driver not currently in the second round to advance.

With so few markers between them, the battle is set to be a dogfight. Following the race, the 12 that advance will have their points reset to 3,000 and a second three-found bracket will ensue to diminish the field from 12 to 8 in advance of the Eliminator Round.

1. Keselowski (LOCKED)

2. Logano (LOCKED)

3. Harvick (+41)

4. Johnson (+31)

5. Earnhardt Jr. (+28)

6. Ky. Busch (+28)

7. Gordon (+21)

8. Edwards (+8)

9. Kenseth (+8)

10. Allmendinger (+7)

11. Kahne (+6)

12. Newman (+6)

13. Hamlin (-6)

14. Biffle (-6)

15. Ku. Busch (-6)

16. Almirola (-10)

Categories
Editorial

Keselowski with Plenty to Race For Despite ‘Bye’

By Matt Weaver — Brad @Keselowski has entered unknown territory in regards to the Chase for the Championship. With his victory on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion now has a first round bye of sorts for the next two events at New Hampshire and Dover.

This is a prospect that no other driver has faced since the introduction of a playoff system back in 2004 and how he and his team attack those two races will be a fascinating subplot for the remainder of the Challenger Round.

The immediate reaction from most onlookers is that Keselowski will not have much to race for until the start of the Contender Round but a deeper look shows that this isn’t quite the case. Despite having an automatic berth into the Round of 12, Keselowski and crew have much to gain and lose over the next two races.

The first involves his teammate, @JoeyLogano.

While Keselowski is guaranteed an automatic berth into the next bracket, Logano has not yet earned the same luxury. Despite a very impressive fourth-place showing in Joliet, Logano has only a 20-point advantage over the elimination cutoff. While that by itself is a pretty sizeable cushion, Logano is one cut tire (or Morgan Shepherd) away from dropping into the danger zone.

The best case scenario for Logano is to win outright on Sunday or continue posting top-10s. It’s an achievable goal that the Miller Lite crew can now devote extra time to given their victory, should Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon require backup.

Don’t forget that Keselowski led 138 laps at Loudon in July, making him and Paul Wolfe a valuable asset in terms of both data acquisition over the weekend and as a chess piece on race day. While that may come too close to team orders for some to approve, it is an advantage that Team Penske earned on Sunday by winning the playoff-opening event.

The second reason for Keselowski to continue digging, simply put, is because that is what drivers and race teams do.

Wolfe explained on Sunday that the victory will not change their approach for the remainder of the first round. And in the same way that a victory in the third race of the season didn’t change how they continued pressing for three more regular season victories, don’t expect Keselowski to lift in preparation for Kansas in three weeks.

Lastly, the 2014 season has presented the “Blanco Dos” team to make a statement against perennial championship contenders like Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart Haas Racing. Think again if you don’t believe Keselowski doesn’t want to send the message that he can beat them head-to-head more times than not.

In addition to the psychological benefit it may provide him in the weeks leading up to the Homestead Championship Race, it is also advantageous of Keselowski to win the next two races just to prevent a rival from earning the same luxury and comfort he is currently enjoying with his two-week bye. Doing so could force the likes of a @JeffGordonWeb, @JimmieJohnson or @KevinHarvick to make a mistake and conceivably miss the second round altogether.

This argument doesn’t even include the mysterious and intangible momentum that Keselowski and company currently have and shouldn’t readily relinquish. The No. 2 team is in a unique position for the next few weeks in not having to battle their way into the second round.

But conventional wisdom suggests they should race just the same.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Aric Almirola Digs Early Chase Hole with Chicagoland Engine Failure

By Matt Weaver (JOLIET, Ill) — After the first of three events in the Challenger Round, it was a likely field of drivers that found themselves in the danger zone after the playoff opener on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Following the races at New Hampshire and Dover, the initial field of 16 will be thinned down to the 12 lowest drivers on the Chase Grid without a win from that bracket. That list is currently comprised of Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola. These four drivers will now be tasked with either winning the next two races or breaking into the top-12 before the cutoff.

Almirola, one of the two clear-cut underdogs and a winner at Daytona in July, tested at Chicagoland last month and was running in the top-5 when his engine expired on lap 232. He now has the biggest hole to climb out of as he leaves Chicagoland with a 23 point deficit to 12th-place Carl Edwards.

The driver of the No. 43 was clearly crestfallen upon stepping out of his car, leading to team owner Richard Petty walking over to console his driver in the aftermath of a 41st-place result.

“Heartbroken, I think, is the easiest way to describe it,” Almirola said of his feelings. “I am really proud of my guys. We have nothing to hang our heads about. They brought me an awesome race car. We drove from 23rd up to the top-10, running sixth with just over 30 to go and it just wasn’t meant to be. We will regroup and go to Loudon and Dover and try to be spectacular.”

With 23 points to make up over the next two races, flawless is exactly what Almirola and his team must strive for in order to advance to the Contender Round. Almirola, however, doesn’t believe any sort of consistency make the cut, leaving only one option moving forward.

“We have to win,” he said. “That is it. There is no other option. We have to go out there and figure out how we can win one of the next two races.”

Allmendinger and Biffle quickly lost a lap to the leaders on Sunday and never recovered, finishing 22nd and 23rd respectively. Both finished two laps down to race winner Brad Keselowski. Allmendinger is a manageable five points out of the transfer spot while Biffle is 11 markers out.

Newman finished a respectable 15th but the middling effort provides no cushion for the remaining two races in the opening round of the playoffs. Now Newman and his No. 31 team must be next to perfect. The complete Chase Grid standings can be found below.

1. Brad Keselowski (Automatic Advancement)

2. Jeff Gordon (+23)

3. Joey Logano (+20)

4. Kevin Harvick (+18)

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (+13)

6. Denny Hamlin (+12)

7. Kyle Busch (+12)

8. Jimmie Johnson (+12)

9. Kurt Busch (+10)

10. Matt Kenseth (+5)

11. Kasey Kahne (+5)

12. Carl Edwards (+1)

—–

13. Ryan Newman (-1)

14. AJ Allmendinger (-5)

15. Greg Biffle (-11)

16. Aric Almirola (-23)

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski: It Scares the $h*! Out of Me

By Matt Weaver (CHICAGO) — Brad @Keselowski enters the Chase for the Championship as the top-seeded driver but has circled the second round of the playoffs as a possible pitfall in his efforts to win a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

The so-called Contender Round will thin the field from 12 to 8 drivers and features events at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega — a prospect that terrifies the 2012 Cup Series champion.

“That second bracket — the Contender bracket — scares the shit out of me,” Keselowski said. “Kansas and Talladega have both been wreckfests the past few years and winning at Charlotte is the only way you can feel comfortable going into that last race. I think that bracket is really going to break some hearts.”

For those still eligible for a championship entering the second round, a win at either Kansas or Charlotte would guarantee entry into the third round and alleviate any pressure of racing at the combustible Talladega restrictor plate race.

As a result, Keselowski and Team Penske used one of their four remaining tests last week at Charlotte, in the hopes that they can win and avoid the pressure generated by Kansas and Talladega.

“We did that because Charlotte is in the bracket that scares the shit out of me,” Keselowski reiterated.

The organization also has three tests remaining and will use them for Martinsville, Texas and Homestead. As for the rest of the Chase, Keselowski says each of the four rounds will require a different set of skills to advance, something he says is a benefit for fans and the good of the sport.

“In some ways you are going to have to take different approaches,” Keselowski said of the new-look format. “In the first bracket, (consisting of) Chicago, Dover and New Hampshire, that is going to demand consistency. The second (which consists of) Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega … we’ve seen that Kansas and Talladega are both wreckfests so that demands survival.

“The third — Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, to make the final four — that’s going to demand performance. Homestead will be about performing under pressure. All told, I think all four are going to require something different out of you and I think that’s a good thing.”

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Editorial

Weaver: Chase Grid Format Setting an Epic Stage

By Matt Weaver (RICHMOND, Vir.) — I feel like it is somewhat fitting that the official motto for the city of Richmond is Itur Ad Astra, which roughly translates to Thus do we reach the stars, because ascension is truly the theme of the annual One Last Race to Make the Chase.

Entering the weekend, 14 teams had earned a spot in the new-look playoff format and staked an initial claim on the season championship. By the conclusion, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle officially added their names to a list that had already included Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Matt Kenseth.

So after all the winter hype and 26 regular season races with the ultimate emphasis on winning to make the Grid, we’ve arrived at the 10 race playoff. And I can’t lie — I’m pretty stoked.

Several of my media colleagues are viewing this as no different than the previous iteration of the playoffs. Others have accosted me for succumbing to the NASCAR marketing machine and using the word “Grid” but this is going to be vastly different than anything we have ever seen before.

But Matt … what about all the things you said in January — like the system “is devoid of both consistency and integrity” or that it was an “artificial sweetener.” Make no mistake, I stand by both of those assessments, even now but the current system is what we’re stuck with.

I have embraced it and choose to accept the many strengths of the Grid over its still notable flaws.

The field was all but locked-in as of Atlanta, stripping Richmond of its traditional dramatic flair. But that’s okay because the Richmond-esque Game 7 moment will be replicated over-and-over in the elimination rounds at Dover, Talladega and Phoenix as the Grid is thinned from 16 to 12, 8 and 4 entering the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Say what you will about Homestead’s new artificial design and the chance for race control to over-police the proceedings but it has been 10 years since the sport will have a final round with this much participation and hype. When all is said and done, the Ford 400 should, in theory, have emulated the same spirit of the 1992 championship battle between Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliot, Davey Allison, Harry Gant and Kyle Petty.

It’s going to be wild, it’s going to be unpredictable and it will provide a series of memorable moments for better or worse over the next three months.

Maintaining the theme of Itur Ad Astra, winning a championship immortalizes drivers amongst the all-time greats, a list that includes the names Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, Earnhardt and Waltrip. For Gordon and Johnson, a fifth and seventh title respectively may come with it the label of the greatest of all-time.

Despite all the changes to the championship formats over the past decade, the common consensus around the garage is that the best team will always manage to win, regardless of the circumstances. That team will always adapt and maximize its strengths to the current system, a theory best exemplified by Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team during the prior Chase era.

The same should apply here as those that are capable of winning and posting top-5s on a weekly basis are those that will ultimately advance to the final round — and are the most deserving champions.

The inaugural Chase Grid is upon us and has the makings to be something really special. Sixteen drivers are set to dogfight their way to Homestead with the solitary goal of ascending to the heavens as a Sprint Cup Series champion. Itur Ad Astra, indeed.

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Editorial

Opinion: NASCAR Looking to go Xfinity and Beyond

By Matt Weaver (RICHMOND, Vir.) — The possibilities are endless following the official announcement on Wednesday that Comcast Xfinity had picked up the entitlement sponsorship of what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

The deal is set to run for a decade until 2025 and truly has the potential to revolutionize the entire sport, not just in terms of the second-tier NASCAR division, but for things that fans may potentially gain during the zenith of this agreement.

A typically tradition-minded bunch, NASCAR fans resent the very concept of change with the most outspoken subset still defiantly referring to Nationwide as Grand National or Busch and not in reference to the most dominant driver currently on the tour either. Just when many of them had grown accustomed to the Nationwide moniker, another change will force them to learn the admittedly awkward but progressive sounding NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The X-Men?

Starting in January, Comcast has a real opportunity to take this division and mold it into their own, uncovering a massing variable (or X) in motorsports in the process. During the Wednesday press conference, NASCAR chairman Brian France said that his Sanctioning Body is taking an open-minded approach to format change, championship battles and more.

“They’re going to have some fresh thinking on what this series can become,” France said. “We’re going to listen to that. At the same time we’re going to balance, as we always do, our institutional knowledge about what works and doesn’t work…

“I’m sure there will be format ideas that come over time that we’ll be interested in looking at because the net of it is, Xfinity and NASCAR want to make this series … bigger and better.”

It’s no secret that NASCAR fans and pundits have grown somewhat disenchanted with the Nationwide Series in recent seasons in regards to the excess Sprint Cup influence and redundancy of the Diet Cup Series schedule. Outgoing sponsor Nationwide encouraged NASCAR to adapt the Pick a Series rule and the Dash4Cash that has certainly added brand uniqueness to the tour and the Comcast Xfinity folks will be afforded the same opportunities moving forward.

The most notable aspect of the announcement is the synergy that now exists between Comcast, the NBC Sports Group (owned by Comcast) that will televise races starting next season and the second-tier NASCAR division. These are three entities that all have the same agenda now and that is to add something to the sport of Stock Car racing.

Event accessibility is an area where Comcast especially looks poised to shine moving forward as multimedia digital streaming is a focus of the Xfinity brand. During an era where NASCAR fans demand to watch the product from whatever device they choose, a la carte and on-demand, this partnership has the potential to really expedite the concepts started by Watch ESPN and Race Buddy.

The future of NASCAR television will be accessing races from every device and the increased interactivity between the fans and event provider, one of the most effective ways to build loyalty in the 21st Century.

The aforementioned synergy between Comcast, NBC and Xfinity will also pay dividends towards NASCAR marketing and activation as well since Comcast, who is required to spend a set amount on ads and marketing per the agreement, can shift its ad buys to the broadcast, giving them more financial flexibility to promote the sport in more unique and creative ways, should they choose (and hopefully will…)

Beyond all of the logistical reasons to welcome Comcast Xfinity with open arms, Penske top prospect Ryan Blaney may have said it best on Wednesday by stating, “the NASCAR Xfinity Series — that just sounds fast.”

It sounds fast, progressive and next-gen and truly has the potential to change the sport for the better. History may paint Wednesday as a historic day for NASCAR fans years down the road so to Xfinity and beyond we go.

On Richmond and the Chase

With just one race remaining in the regular season, this Saturday night at Richmond, now is a good time to reflect on how the new Chase Grid format has redefined what a successful season is at this point.

It’s remarkable that in years past, winless Matt Kenseth (third in points), Ryan Newman (ninth) and Kyle Larson (13th) would all have been considered in the midst of successful seasons despite failing to visit Victory Lane. But instead, Kenseth is currently viewed by some as a driver who just snuck his way into the new-look playoff while Newman, Larson, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are poised for a battle to save their seasons.

But the real change of perception has actually come to those who have actually won this season. Despite having middling to sub-par campaigns, drivers like Kyle Busch (17th), Denny Hamlin (19th), Kurt Busch (21st), Aric Almirola (22nd) and AJ Allmendinger (23rd) have all made the Chase and thus can view their body of work with a wholly positive approach.

It’s a further confirmation that NASCAR has successfully eliminated the notion of “having a good points day” completely from its drivers’ vocabularies. Both Busch brothers are a perfect example in that while they have struggled for most of the season, those perceptions will vanish in just a few days following the Chase reset.

The Chase Grid has totally redefined the parameters of both success and mediocrity at the highest level of NASCAR and has made for strange times for any long-time observers if nothing else.

The impossibility of forecasting the Chase

Veteran NASCAR scribe Monte Dutton said it best about the new Chase format in his Monday column:

“This Chase is going to be wild. Coyotes are wild but there isn’t as much howling. NASCAR officials are always behind. What they wanted is a video game. What they’re going to get is a pinball machine.”

Predicting how the next 11 weeks will play out will be next to impossible (although we will try next Wednesday). Championship leaders like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jimmie Johnson are all faltering down the regular season stretch while underdogs like Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola all appear to be establish a sense of relative momentum.

The best bet for the Final Four (this really needs a legit name, NASCAR) still appears to call for some combination of two Hendrick Motorsport teams, one Penske and Kevin Harvick but what do you think? Give us your Homestead predictions in the comments section below.

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