Categories
Commentary

In NASCAR’s Chase, Everyone Has A Part to Play

NASCAR is unique among American sports leagues, especially when it comes to the playoffs. Whether it be Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL or the NBA, once the end of the regular season comes, it is only those few teams who have clinched a playoff berth that continue. For the rest, they can pack up the gear and unpack the golf clubs as the off-season has begun.

Last weekend in Richmond, the Sprint Cup regular season came to a close, and the sixteen drivers who will compete for a championship were determined. (The XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series Chases will be finalized this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.) In other sports, those teams would be the only ones to compete for the remainder of the season. Not so in NASCAR.

Through the final races of 2016, every team that can qualify for a race will continue to compete and could still have an impact. While logic might suggest those capable of winning an individual race might have already done so through the course of the regular season or at least been consistent enough to make it into the Chase on points, there will be those in the field ready to play spoiler and could have a huge impact on the Chase.

Take, for example, Ryan Blaney. The driver of the No21 Wood Brothers Ford may not have been able to point his way into the Chase, but it wouldn’t be impossible to envision Blaney becoming another rookie to grab their first Cup win before season’s end. With a win in the playoffs allowing for Chase drivers to advance to the next round, a Blaney win could be a huge barrier for someone struggling in points who needs a win to keep their championship hopes alive.

At the same time, a non-Chase driver could end up having an adverse impact on the Chase. Imagine a scenario in which Matt DiBenedetto blows a tire at Dover and begins a wreck that includes Kyle Busch. Without meaning to, DiBenedetto could end Busch’s championship defense in the first round.

Of course, that’s not to say drivers couldn’t or wouldn’t intentionally derail another’s Chase chances. Last year, Matt Kenseth wrecked Joey Logano at Martinsville, ending Logano’s promising season and his chance at a championship. The incident stemmed from an earlier collision between the two drivers at Kansas, when Logano had spun Kenseth, leading to the latter’s eventual Chase elimination.

Before the first Chase race of 2016, there are already tempers flaring. Kenseth and Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski are already at odds, and no one can forget the physical fight between Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek in the truck series. There’s little doubt that Custer may have something to say about Nemechek’s chances in the Chase.

Welcome to the Chase 2016, where every driver in the field has a part to play.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
XFINITY

XFINITY XTRA: JGR is FAST at KY

Nothing New

The repave of Kentucky Speedway did little to slow down Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas, which claimed the top three spots in XFINITY series qualifying for the ninth time this season. Kyle Busch won the pole, Daniel Suarez started second and Eric Jones, third.

At the onset, one number took command of  the leaderboard for the entire night. The No. 18 became the chasee, with one exception. Busch only relinquished the lead to pit and grabbed another checkered flag to pad his stats in the XFINITY series. He dominated the field to the point where only 11 cars were on the lead lap at the finish.

But JGR’s power didn’t stop with first place. Jones would spend almost the first half of the race running second before losing grip just after Lap 90. That allowed Austin Dillon to take the spot away and hold it until “the fourth quarter” began. By then, Jones was back in second.

After a spinout by Ray Black Jr.  created a restart, Jones briefly held the lead until another caution. During that time, Jones was penalized for not keeping up with the pace car. The frustrated Jones restarted 3rd and finish 4th. The third JGR driver, Suarez, had been battling for a top-five position for most of the night but picked up where his teammate left off.

On the final restart, Dillon briefly challenged Busch for the lead and claimed the runner-up spot. Suarez, Jones and Darrell Wallace, Jr. filled out the top five.

 

Ty Dillon’s Rebound

While Joe Gibbs Racing was able to conquer the repave during qualifying, Ty Dillon got loose and scraped the wall, one of many drivers from both the XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series to have difficulty navigating the upper groove on Friday.

While Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing team was able to fix the No. 3, he had to go to the back of the field. Fortunately for Dillon, that car had been among the fastest during practice, and that translated to the race — even with the temperature difference.

With a fast car, some aggressive driving and pit strategy, Dillon was in the top 10 just after the competition caution at Lap 25.

On Lap 159, he gambled again, staying out for several laps while others pitted. A pit road speeding penalty could have been a setback but, under the circumstances, he still remained 9th and improved to 7th.

 

JR Motorsports Has Seen Better Days

While JR Motorsports seemed in position to continue their challenge of Joe Gibbs Racing for XFINITY series dominance, they had several setbacks in Kentucky.

After colliding with the No. 90 of Alex Guenette on pit road, Cole Custer, driving the No. 88 this week, suffered damage to his car’s power steering and headed to the garage.

Custer, with his career best start of 8th, returned to the track at approximately Lap 120. But as he came back on track, teammate Justin Allgaier, running in the top 10, was heading to the garage to work on an issue with the drive plate on the No. 7 Chevrolet. Allgaier returned to the race 20 laps down and finished 31st, one spot ahead of Custer.

If JR Motorsports did have luck, it was saved for Elliott Sadler. While he didn’t challenge Busch for the win, he ran up front all night, had little trouble on the track and finished 6th.

 

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
Development Journalists

Sponsorship Woes Halt Burton

As the NASCAR XFINITY Series ventures to Pocono Raceway, the entry list for this weekend’s race will have one noticeable change.

On Wednesday, Richard Petty Motorsports announced they’re suspending operations of the No. 43 XFINITY team due to financial issues with the primary sponsor, J. Streicher, citing that the financial services firm had missed payments.

“This is an unfortunate situation,” said Richard Petty Motorsports CEO Brian Moffitt. “We make commitments to both our employees and vendors that are based on sponsor commitments, and we take those commitments seriously. We will pursue every avenue to ensure the contractual obligations between RPM and our sponsor are met. We’ll take each week as it comes and do our best to get the No. 43 Ford Mustang on track as much as possible this season.”

The driver of the No.43, Jeb Burton, released a statement on Twitter following the announcement.

Burton had just joined Richard Petty Motorsports in the offseason and had accumulated one top 10, along with four top 15’s, one of which came this past weekend in Charlotte, where he finished 11th. Burton also positioned the team in a promising spot to make the XFINITY Series’ inaugural Chase, as he sits 11th in the point standings, 20 points above the cutoff.

Despite the suspension of operations, RPM will continue their current relationship with Jeb Burton and will work on getting the No.43 back to the track.

As for this weekend, Burton will still be traveling to Pocono, as he will be making his first start of the season in the Sprint Cup Series in the No. 32 car for GO FAS Racing.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

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
XFINITY

NASCAR Suspends Ty Dillon’s Crew Chief

Nick Harrison, crew chief for Ty Dillon in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, has been suspended for this weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway.

Harrison’s suspension comes after the Richard Childress Racing team received a P3 penalty for an infraction found during opening day inspection at Bristol Motor Speedway. The team was cited for violating sections 20.4.13, 20.4.12.1 a, b, c, d. NASCAR penalized the team for using a proper spoiler assembly and extension that did not conform to NASCAR specifications.

To go with his suspension, Harrison was levied a $10,000 fine and placed on NASCAR probation through December 31.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday that the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing team of Brandon Jones received its second warning of the season for failing laser inspection at Bristol. The team will lose 15 minutes of practice time at Richmond.

EMAIL HANK AT editors@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HankLee89

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

Categories
Commentary

WEAVER: Debating the Leaked XFINITY Playoff Proposal

On Wednesday, Jeff Gluck of USA Today tweeted an interesting tidbit that was forwarded to him by an anonymous member of the NASCAR Fan Council.

Contained in the tweet was the outline of a potential playoff format that NASCAR claims to be considering for use in the XFINITY Series. In short, it’s very similar to the one employed by the Sprint Cup Series, but also has the added feature of preventing Cup regulars from dropping down and stealing wins from tour regulars.

The concept as presented to the Fan Council goes as follows:

  • Full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers would not be able to race in any of the NASCAR XFINITY Series races
  • The XFINITY Series championship field consists of 12 XFINITY drivers
  • Drivers eligible for the playoffs are determined by the greatest number of wins after 26 events, then drivers without a win who have the most points will take the remaining spots
  • The championship format would consist of seven races; six races and one final championship race
  • The number of championship drivers in contention decreases after every three XFINITY races, from 12 to start; eight after race three and four after race six
  • A win at any of the three races within a round equals advancement into the next round
  • Four drivers enter the NASCAR XFINITY Championship race in Miami with a chance to win, with the highest finisher amongst those four capturing the NASCAR XFINITY Series title.

There’s a lot to digest here and frankly, this may be something worth considering.

Sure, the playoff concept is one that doesn’t sit well with a vocal percentage of long-time NASCAR fans. In their eyes, a champion is best crowned with the perfect ratio of winning and consistency over a full season with no resets whatsoever.

But if there is something fans dislike more than the Chase, it’s Cup Series drivers dipping down into the lower divisions and taking rides and victories away from younger drivers. It’s a complaint that predates the Chase for the Championship with fans lamenting Winston Cup drivers who participated in Busch Series races, an act still known to this day as Buschwacking.

Unfortunately for fans who want to see the XFINITY Series roster stand on its own, the economics just don’t make sense without a radical overhaul of the status quo.

Race teams, even at the XFINITY Series level, require a tremendous amount of money to participate, and for the time being, that has meant bringing in Sprint Cup drivers to come in and sell advertising. Some of the top teams in the garage have been able to allocate resources to support up-and-coming talent, but it’s not the easiest endeavor in the world.

There are some in the sport who privately claim that the XFINITY Series couldn’t exist without the revenue, attention and ticket sales/TV rating that Cup drivers bring in by participating on Saturday afternoons.

So for NASCAR to listen to the fans that want a Cup-free XFINITY Series field, a concession will have to be made. Could the attention and drama of the Chase for the Championship inject enough excitement into the tour to make up for the lack of Cup drivers to draw casual fans?

Maybe.

But there’s something else to be considered too. With NASCAR drawing closer to the implementation of a franchising model for the Sprint Cup Series, there could be several Cup drivers and teams looking for a new home if the field shrinks to less than 43 cars, as has been heavily rumored.

With Cup drivers hypothetically banned from the XFINITY Series, several drivers may look to drop down and inherit many of the rides that their Cup counterparts would have otherwise held. In fact, part of the new franchising model could even require Sprint Cup team owners to own full-time XFINITY teams, in the same way stick-and-ball franchises are required to invest in minor league feeder systems.

There’s no doubt that the XFINITY Series has grown stale over the past decade.

The schedule has slowly morphed into a carbon copy of its Cup counterpart and now the driver roster has started to reflect that synergy as well. A playoff format may alienate a portion of the fan base that already loathes the Chase for the Championship, but if it gives the tour its own identity and attracts sponsors to young prospects is that not a net gain?

Opine away.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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

Categories
XFINITY

Buescher Confidently Adds Name to Title Talk

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A year ago @Chris_Buescher was sitting on the promise of an eventful and educational rookie campaign in the XFINITY Series.

Wednesday he sat figuratively taller on the Roush Fenway Racing stop of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. Buescher exuded confidence – as well as that good ol’ Media Tour excitement – about competing for the championship. Something he was never given a fair shot last year after failing to make the season-opening event in Daytona.

His feelings weren’t hurt though, and Buescher rebounded for his first career win and blazed through the summer as one of the series hottest drivers. He wound up seventh in the final standings with a trunk full of confidence entering 2015.

“(The championship) is absolutely the goal,” Buescher stated. “I expect nothing less than to be competing for a championship this year. I feel like our team is capable. I feel like our products, our racecars coming out of the shop have improved.”

Buescher will be part of a four-car super team Roush created during the offseason. With the return of Buescher and @driverRyanReed (he finished ninth in points) come the additions of veteran @Elliott_Sadler and Darrell @BubbaWallace.

None of the four have won a title, and though Sadler has the experience, Buescher is working off momentum. Plus the more teams the better, with the added resources and firepower.

“I think we have a good group of guys to go out there and compete for this championship,” said Buescher. “So we’re going to come out of the gate and got to get through Daytona. That’s one of those where you if you find yourself in a good position you capitalize on it, if it’s going to be one of those days where you’re going to have to struggle a little bit, you’ve got to make the best of it.

“But once we get out of there and get to racing we’ll be hitting hard and trying to be aggressive to make sure we put ourselves in a good place to continue on the rest of the year.”

As he praised his new XFINITY lineup, Roush was admittedly subpar in 2014 in the Sprint Cup Series. Leaving the 72-year-old owner to state staunchly the organization needs to improve on the circuits that for years had been their bread and butter. Personnel were not only shuffled, but new hires were made during an offseason of admitted organizational “soul searching.”

It’s trickled down to all teams with Buescher expressing that the newcomers have already changed the shops outlook. With operations being straightened out at home, Buescher is solely focused on going to work, ready to implement the lessons of last year.

A lot of which will be the experience that comes with returning to tracks for the second, third, or fourth time. While something new – in all Sprint Cup Series companion events – will be the pit road officiating system. Buescher is expecting to be kept on his toes with how everything will not be thoroughly enforced.

“We just needed seat time and without testing it’s a good thing that we do have last year under out belt,” he said. “Going into this season I know where we need to be unloading, we have a lot of chemistry through our team now, majority of everybody is the same guys that we started out with last year, so I’m looking forward to getting going.”
Other than that, Buescher is not expecting many curveballs.

“I think just the little things you learn each and every weekend (will come into play),” Buescher said. “Where bumps are on the racetrack, where the lines at, where the groove goes once you get into a race, who you can race around, who is harder to race around. Things of that nature are really going to help this year.”

His mindset, however, will be different than a year ago. The learning curve behind him, it’s about a new approach. A risk versus reward concept Buescher’s waiting to unleash with an aim of an unthinkable goal this time a year ago.

“Last year we could be about as aggressive as we needed to once points were a little bit out of our vision,” Buescher said. “We have to mindful of it this year around but I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t run for that championship.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

Categories
XFINITY

Ross Chastain to Run Full XFINITY Schedule

@JDMotorsports01 is expected to announced that @RossChastain will run a full XFINITY series schedule in the team’s third full-time car, according to a report on Catchfence.com.

The 22-year-old Chastain made his Camping World Truck series debut in 2011, running in five races for Turn One Racing. The Florida native ran a full truck series schedule in 2012 with SS-Green Light Racing, but only ran partial schedules with Brad Keselowski Racing and Ricky Benton Racing in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Chastain has compiled five top-fives and 12 top-10s in his truck series career.

Chastain broke into the XFINITY Series last season during the May Charlotte race. He went on to run six more races with Viva Motorsports and Hattori Racing Enterprises, with his season-best tenth place finish coming in September at Kentucky.

He also ran two K&N East Series races for Hattori last season, finishing sixth and 17th at Columbus and Iowa respectively.

Chastain will join @LandonCassill and @HarrisonRhodes at JD Motorsports. Cassill returns to the team after finishing 12th in the XFINITY series last year. Rhodes, like Chastain, will run his first full XFINITY schedule, after running 13 races in the series over the past two seasons.

According to the report, Chastain will drive the No. 4 Camaro, which was vacated when @JEarnhardt1 left the team after last season. Sponsorship for the car will be announced at a later date.

John McHugh is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL JOHN AT john.mchugh@popularspeed.com

Categories
XFINITY

Scott Continues His Career Season

By Jason Schultz – It was another good day at the office for @BScottRacing (Brian Scott). A year of solid performances continued Saturday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway as he came home sixth after having a great run.

There were times during the race that the No. 2 Country Bob’s Sauce Chevrolet Camaro looked capable of winning. This has been a trend throughout the season as this team has been improving steadily and proves that with their finishes.

Compared to previous statistics, 2014 has been the best year of his career. Twenty-one top-10 finishes exceed his previous high of 13 from last year.

By running consistently, Scott has become a fixture inside the top-10. Fans are now used to seeing the No. 2 high on the scoring pylon, and aren’t surprised when he is contending for the victory.

His best finish this season came at Kentucky Speedway back in September when he ended the night in second-place. This was one of six top-five finishes. They have come at a variety of tracks including twice at a short-track and an intermediate facility, and once at a 2-mile speedway as well as the Mid-Ohio road-course.

Being such a diverse racer will treat the Boise, Idaho native well in the future. This could lead to his first Nationwide Series victory coming at any track. When will this breakthrough occur? It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets the job done in Phoenix next weekend or early on during the 2015 season.

Brian+Scott+O+Reilly+Auto+Parts+Challenge+il0EkczKBFPx
Championship contenders Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and Brian Scott pose prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Phoenix International Raceway stands out because of its layout. It incorporates short-track features along with characteristics from 1.5-mile facilities. He runs well at both which could put him among the front-runners again next weekend.

It’s only a matter of time before fans will witness another first-time series winner. He vows to “…keep chomping away at it” and put forth a full-effort over the next two weeks in order to accomplish the feat. In return, he will be able to fend off @Elliott_Sadler and @TyDillon, who are going to try and take over third-place in the points standings before the final checkered flag waves in Miami.

No matter how the season concludes, this team will be left smiling and proud of their hard work, which has greatly paid off in the results column.

Jason Schultz is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

Categories
XFINITY

Blaney Bags Yet Another Top-10 Finish

By Kayla Darrow – @RyanBlaney22 scored his 12th top-10 finish in 13 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts this season with a third place finish at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday. The young driver is proving to be quite the threat no matter what series he finds himself racing in.

Blaney started off Saturday’s NNS race in fifth place. His only real hiccup of the day came in the first 50 laps when Blaney tapped the wall while running third, denting his car’s right side quarter panel a bit but causing no serious damage. Blaney would go on to not leave the top-10 all day. He ran as high as second before finishing third to Sprint Cup regulars, @KyleBusch and @JoeyLogano.

“The run before that green flag run there we were catching both of them [Busch and Logano]. I knew we had to pit again, and we didn’t really have great takeoff speed on new tires, and I knew that was going to hurt us. Maybe if we could have gotten ahead of them on the pit stop we might have been able to hold them off. I doubt it, but I can’t say enough about Greg Erwin and everyone that helps out on that 12 car.” said Blaney afterwards.

Blaney’s third place finish adds to the success he has found in his limited NNS run for Penske Racing. Aside from his 12 top-10 finishes, Blaney also grabbed his second NNS win during the series’ return to Bristol Motor Speedway in the fall. His only non-top-10 finish this year came from Talladega where he placed 21st.

“It has been a lot of fun being able to run with the 22 bunch, Jeremy Bullins, and then doing these couple races with Greg Erwin and the 12 bunch. It has been really neat, and it has taught me a whole lot and we’ve had good runs.”

“It has definitely meant a lot to me that Mr. Penske and everyone over there at Discount Tires will let me run that many races, and it just definitely makes you feel good as a driver.”

While specific plans for Blaney’s 2015 schedule with Penske Racing have yet to be announced, Blaney and the team can only be excited to see what their future holds given the run they have had with each other this year. It should also be noted that Blaney will be participating in a partial run with Wood Brothers Racing in the Sprint Cup Series in 2015.

While you can’t necessarily compare a limited run to a full season, Blaney’s success shows the driver has the capability to be a top contender in NASCAR’s second tier series whenever he ends up making the leap to it. His accomplishments this year prove Blaney can jump into a car he is not always in, be consistent and win or at least run up front.

Blaney is scheduled to run at Homestead-Miami Speedway for his final NNS race this season. Watch for him to snatch up another top-10 finish – or maybe even a win.

Categories
Humor

Race Fans Question New XFINITY Details

By Kevin Alford (@CitizenKBA) – The Busch Grand National Series has announced it will change it’s name again in 2015, dropping the Nationwide brand, and picking up the much sexier XFINITY moniker. I’m already excited! But this has caused some concern and confusion among fans. Let’s clear things up.

Question: Will my Nationwide policy be cancelled?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Does @DaleJr. still trust Nationwide?
Answer: No, not anymore, he doesn’t.

Question: What does the word “XFINITY” mean?
Answer: Nothing. It’s made up, like “Haagen Dazs,” and “love.”

Question: If I don’t have Comcast, will I still be able to watch the races?
Answer: No. You have to change providers to view the races.

Question: But @DGodfatherMoody (Dave Moody) says I can watch the races on any system. Is he wrong?
Answer: Yes. And he was wrong to yell at you, too.

Question: Will my cable bill go up?
Answer: Yes. Somebody has to pay that $200 million, and it’s you.

Question: What if my cable goes out during a race?
Answer: @KyleBusch wins. You didn’t miss anything.

Question: Will I be able to watch the races if I only have basic cable?
Answer: No. You will have to upgrade to the more expensive Obscure Channel Package.

Question: The XFINITY Series isn’t the one @scottspeed races in, is it?
Answer: Oh, God no!

Question: Am I insured through Comcast now?
Answer: You’ve mistaken me for @bobpockrass.

Question: Do you remember @SaferRacer (Randy LaJoie)?
Answer: Okay, we’re done here.

I hope this helps answer your questions and allay any fears you may have about the new XFINITY sponsorship. Enjoy the racing.

“The XFINITY Series, Rated X for Xcitement!…and some partial nudity.”

EMAIL KEVIN AT kevin.alford@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @CitizenKBA