Tag Archives: The Chase

Busch to make All-Star return, receives Chase waiver

Kyle Busch is finally back.

After months of healing and rehabilitation, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was cleared to return to competition. He is set to make his comeback during Saturday night’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The news came Tuesday morning, along with a video Busch posted to Twitter.

The driver broke his leg in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway, the season-opening race for the second-tier series. After he wrecked, his car went into an inside wall with no SAFER barrier. Busch has been out of a car since that incident, which was nearly three months ago.

NASCAR announced Wednesday morning that Busch will receive a waiver for The Chase, excluding the requirement of starting all regular season races. To make the playoff field, however, Busch needs to win a race and be in the top 30 in the point standings.

“Our decision to grant [Busch] a waiver that allows him to continue running for a championship is one we discussed extensively,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, in an official press release. “The spirit of the rule never was designed to punish drivers who are unable to compete due to extenuating circumstances such as recovering from a racing accident.”

This will be a big month for Busch, whose wife Samantha is expecting their first child any day now. The baby boy will add to the emotional resurgence his father is currently weathering.

Welcome back, Kyle Busch.

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Survival earns victorious Harvick and others slots in Final Four

(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The level of intensity kept rising until the very end, a needed win coming for a hopeful Kevin Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 and three other drivers earned their tickets to Homestead-Miami Speedway in a thrilling bout at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday afternoon. Eight teams entered the event with their fingers crossed, praying that things would go their way.

For half of them, it unfortunately didn’t.

Harvick’s performance was nearly flawless, proving something that everyone already knew: Phoenix is his track. Out of the last four races at the venue, he’s won three of them. His first season with Stewart-Haas Racing has been full of ups and downs, so a championship would definitely taste sweet. He’s finally found what Richard Childress Racing couldn’t give him, and he’s riding it all the way to Homestead.

No one could foresee the chaos that would ensue; on the final lap, Ryan Newman smacked Kyle Larson, sending the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie out of his way and up into the wall. That spot gave Newman the one point he needed to kick Jeff Gordon out of The Chase. This marks the second weekend where an end-of-the-race scuffle worked out negatively for Gordon.

Also in his first season with a new team, the fire that lit under Newman’s hind end is quite impressive. Who would’ve thought that No. 31 team could squeak into the final four?

Those also eliminated are Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards. With the final four as Harvick, Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano, a brand-new champion will be crowned next Saturday

Hamlin and Logano’s day were equally confusing; both went laps down early on and somehow managed to find consistency at the end.

That was the story of the race: survival. Points still mattered in the end, and they will always matter in racing.

However, the story will be completely different in Homestead. Whoever finishes the highest gets the title of 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Which position is the highest? Oh, yeah. First.

That’s what they mean by “win and you’re in.”

The Final Four

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Joey Logano
3. Ryan Newman
4. Kevin Harvick

Earnhardt experiences glory, while others feel anger at Martinsville

After a race full of various emotions, the sense of being overwhelmed fell over Martinsville Speedway as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his fourth race of 2014.

The championship is out of the question for the driver of the No. 88; he failed to advance to the Eliminator round after the brawl at Talladega Superspeedway. That fact doesn’t erase his will to win. In actuality, it’s strengthened.

That strength was apparent Sunday afternoon, when Earnhardt, Jr. clawed his way to the top of the heap. Various obstacles made the victory even sweeter. With short track temperaments and cautions galore around every corner, it was a risky venture, but the No. 88 braved it all and ended up in victory lane.

Emotions are always high at short tracks, yet things were elevated this weekend at Hendrick Motorsports. Ten years prior, a plane carrying Rick Hendrick’s family and close friends crashed. Everyone on the aircraft passed away, including Hendrick’s son, Ricky. Each team pays tribute after every win; as they do the hat dance and put on HMS hats, they turn them backwards for a photo op. Ricky Hendrick was known for wearing his hat backwards, and he is not forgotten.

Earnhardt, Jr. was friends with Ricky, and the emotion was obvious in his post-win interview. He also mentioned his father, racing legend Dale Earnhardt, Sr., saying, “My daddy had these grandfather clocks in the house. I’ve wanted one since I was a kid. I went out and got one.”

He and Hendrick shared a hug on TV, and the win was put into perspective. A dad who lost his son and a son who lost his dad found success and solace in each other. That is a true example of NASCAR and what relationships it creates.

Martinsville brought not only emotion but also retaliation; many instances spiced up the 500-mile event. The most notable scuffle occurred between Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne. What started as an attempt to make room for the No. 5 resulted in the No. 55 spinning. A displeased Vickers came back and turned Kahne, and the vice versa happened a few laps later. Though Kahne is typically a quiet driver, he fought back. That was the most surprising part of it all, making it a key element to the afternoon’s festivities.

Because Earnhardt, Jr. is no longer a Chase contender, this puts pressure on those who are still in the hunt. Jeff Gordon came home second, securing the top of the Chase grid. It was Kevin Harvick who had a difficult day, dealing with a deep starting position and tussling with Matt Kenseth. Brad Keselowski also struggled with mechanical issues. These top pick for the Final Four fell into the Fatal Four –the ones who may be cut after Phoenix International Raceway.

Short tracks always conjure tons of emotions, and Sunday afternoon was no exception. From anger to tears, it was all there at Martinsville Speedway. Let’s hope it continues on for the remainder of the Chase.

Chase Grid after Martinsville Speedway

1. Jeff Gordon (–)
2. Ryan Newman (-3)
3. Joey Logano (-4)
4. Matt Kenseth (-5)
5. Denny Hamlin (-7)
6. Carl Edwards (-20)
7. Brad Keselowski (-31)
8. Kevin Harvick (-33)

 

Elimination format impresses at Dover, yet Wonder Boy shines

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

As fans of Chase Nations sat on the edges of their seats, Dover International Speedway made the Elimination race one to remember.

The thrill came from The Bubble Battle and a few twists. It was apparent that there would be many green flag runs, yet that didn’t deter drivers. Strapping in, everyone had a goal and an animalistic focus of survival.

Kevin Harvick started from the pole and dominated much of the race. A brave Brad Keselowski hunted the No. 4 without prevail. When reports of an issue arose from the Stewart-Haas Racing camp, many weren’t surprised; the story of Harvick’s season includes domination and downfall. The team spiraled even more out of control when his left front tire blew. The inner valve stem was broken. Though he finished in the top-15, it wasn’t what he wanted.

Keselowski stepped up to bat. Team Penske’s muscle was too strong to ignore. The organization is nearly perfect and are serious championship contenders. However, as great as the No. 2’s performance was, he was overpowered by the No. 24.

Yes, Jeff Gordon ran him down and stole the lead. Anyone who’s made old man jokes about this guy needs to apologize. The Drive for Five is still alive, especially after he claimed his fourth win of 2014 Sunday afternoon. He visited the Monster Mile’s victory lane for the first time since 2001, a sure sign that the Rainbow Warrior is stirring in his soul (Can we make ‘#WonderBoyLivesOn’ a hashtag this season?).

Alas, the race had to be solemn for some. This was a cut-off race, one where four drivers were removed from championship contention. Folks were eager to see how the new addition to The Chase format would unfold. Honestly, it changed the complexion of Dover; it made it a can’t-miss event, a complete one-eighty from its usual stance. The Bubble Battle kept eyes and calculators busy the entire afternoon.

Flip-flopping highlighted the newest improvement. First Kasey Kahne was in, then it was Kurt Busch, and that tug-of-war match lasted until the checkered flag flew. Kahne ended up advancing, despite finishing 21st. Those eliminated are Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, and Aric Almirola. One thing’s for sure: if Kahne wants to be a serious Contender, he has to stop getting by with the bare minimum. That entire team –especially the pit crew—needs to get their heads in the game. If not, they don’t have a fighting chance.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series dives into the Contender round, these next two races –which take place at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway—are critical. Why? Because the next cut-off race is at Talladega Superspeedway.

No pressure, guys.

 

Chase Grid following Dover

  1. Brad Keselowski
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  8. Matt Kenseth
  9. Ryan Newman
  10. Carl Edwards
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Kasey Kahne

Drunk on a Fence: Race fan’s climb lightens tiring Richmond race

"Drunk on a Fence" (Via @AliciaPRNradio's Twitter)
“Drunk on a Fence”
(Via @AliciaPRNradio’s Twitter)

The only thing that made the race at Richmond International Raceway thrilling was a shirtless dude on the catch fence.

Yes, you read that correctly; a (reportedly drunk) race fan climbed on top of the protective catch fence during the race. He made it to the top and relaxed for a while before finally being caught by track officials. The fact it took that long for someone to realize his presence is shameful. Also, this feeds the “redneck” stereotype pretty well.

However, it was pretty funny.

Aside from that, the race didn’t live up to the expectation bestowed onto it. The last race before The Chase is supposed to be exciting, right? It was so predictable that Jimmie Johnson guessed the top drivers –winner Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick—on Friday after practice. Though Keselowski’s dominance was impressive, it was exhausting to watch. The Drunk Fence Man was a needed break, but it just goes to show how alcohol can make people do some crazy things.

Speaking of Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 experienced severe dehydration after the race. He was carted to the care center after exiting the car and laying on the ground, unable to keep himself up. It was a scary moment, and let’s hope he’s going to be okay.

The Chase field is officially set, and Keselowski is seeded at the top. It’s going to be ten weeks of eliminations, talented driving, and nail-biting. Here’s to hoping it’s better than the race at Richmond.

The Chase Field

Brad Keselowski (–)
2. Jeff Gordon (-3)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-3)
4. Jimmie Johnson (-3)
5. Joey Logano (-3)
6. Kevin Harvick (-6)
7. Carl Edwards (-6)
8. Kyle Busch (-9)
9.Denny Hamlin (-9)
10. Kurt Busch (-9)
11. Kasey Kahne (-9)
12. Aric Almirola (-9)
13. AJ Allmendinger (-9)
14. Matt Kenseth (-12)
15. Greg Biffle (-12)
16. Ryan Newman (-12)

Atlanta’s final Labor Day race results in Chase berth for Kahne

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The final Labor Day event at Atlanta Motor Speedway seemed to last forever. Maybe it never wanted to end. As the bizarre race played out, Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne was thankful the action ceased –especially when it worked in his favor.

Five-hundred miles is an exhausting amount, one that’s difficult to completely fill with excitement. Lulls ensued, yet they served as needed breaks from the crazy developments.

It all started with a cat. Or a squirrel. When leader Kevin Harvick radioed in early into the race, he quickly dodged a furry object. It was first regarded as a feline, but a clear photo showed that it was a tree-dwelling critter that took a wrong turn.

A caution soon came out –thankfully, it wasn’t for the squirrel. Instead, it was for some unwanted decoration on Jimmie Johnson’s machine. AJ Allmendinger’s tire shredded apart, and a shred flew up and hooked onto the No. 48’s hood pins. BOOM, streamers.

Oh, but the insanity didn’t stop there; on one of the many restarts, turn three was a crapshoot due to a large quantity of smoke drifting into the area. It seemed to be from an infield fire. Either way, it looked creepy.

The race mellowed out, and it was shaping to be a tight battle between second-place Harvick and a leading Kahne. The former has collected three wins this season, while the HMS driver hadn’t contributed to the team count. Kahne’s lead kept growing and growing and growing as he came closer to the white flag’s appearance…

…and then Kyle Busch drove through Martin Truex, Jr. He claimed it was a misjudgment, yet he rammed into him again once the No. 78 went into the wall. Truex and his team were understandably upset, searching for some consistency. The incident sent the field up for pit stops, and Matt Kenseth rose to the occasion. He took two tires, while Kahne and Harvick went with four. They fell back, chances seemingly diminished.

On the restart, Paul Menard got a horrible restart on his two tires and back up into Harvick. Joey Logano darted out of line and set them three wide. Eating and banging followed, and Harvick smacked the wall, chances killed. When the caution flew, Kahne was third, next to a surprisingly strong Danica Patrick.

Kenseth attempted to hang onto the final restart, but Kahne wasn’t having any of it. With an accidental wiggle from the No. 20, Kahne extended his lead and took the checkered flag. His first victory of 2014 gives him seventeen wins in his career.

Some other notable headlines: Winless Kenseth also secures a spot in The Chase, and Patrick claimed her career-best finish with sixth place.

With one race remaining until The Chase begins, things are getting tight. It’s no doubt that the Richmond International Raceway event will be exciting, but can it top Atlanta’s showing? That’s to be determined.

The Sweet Sixteen: Predicting The Chase field

NASCAR’s new system for The Chase makes me wonder who will make up the 16-man shootout. As always, the ten final races will help determine the champion, but the process of getting in that position? Win. The emphasis on taking the checkered flag will heighten competitiveness, and it will be a brawl 70% of the time. The other 30% will be taken up by strategy and “points racing,” if there is such a thing this time around. To say it will be interesting is a large understatement.

I have decided to predict the points reset that we’ll see at the beginning of The Chase, where drivers are arranged by number of wins. In my mock field, I have 14 different winners, the final two spots being selected by ranking after the final regular season race at Richmond International Raceway. There won’t be one clear dominator, and some surprising faces will steal wins.

Without further ado, here’s my list, with the number of races won in the regular season in parentheses:

The 2014 Chase Standings going into Chicagoland Speedway

1. Jimmie Johnson (4)
2. Denny Hamlin (4)
3. Kyle Busch (3)
4. Kevin Harvick (3)
5. Matt Kenseth (2)
6. Kasey Kahne (2)
7. Brad Keselowski (1)
8. Carl Edwards (1)
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1)
10. Ryan Newman (1)
11. Kurt Busch (1)
12. Martin Truex Jr. (1)
13. Tony Stewart (1)
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1)
15. Jeff Gordon (0)
16. Austin Dillon (0)

Now, before you start thinking I’m a total nut job, allow me to explain myself.

The top four are sure-fire threats. Johnson’s position at the top needs no elaboration. He’s a monster and the best, enough said. Hamlin is hell-bent on bringing himself back into the spotlight, a comeback needed after the rollercoaster he was on last year. He’s a dog who won’t release a toy from its jaws, no matter how hard its owner tugs and yanks on the opposite end. Busch is the same way; nothing can deter him from winning, not even a physical car on-track. He’ll move you out of the way and not feel sorry for it. Another driver who can do that is Harvick. He’s always aggressive, but he’s smart about who and when to push. There’s no doubt these four will be fighting each other, but their personalities will, too.

It’s hard to predict a slump, but there’s no way Kenseth can top what he accomplished last year. He’ll be competitive, sure. Dominating the regular season? Easier said than done. Kahne battled numerous times against the No. 20 and ended up on the losing side. His success with Hendrick Motorsports has been difficult to come by, and a seed in The Chase standings is crucial for survival. Speaking of surviving, previous champion Keselowski has barely done that, not making the finals last year and struggling to the extreme. It’s time for him to buckle down and get back at it. The finals standings last year left a bitter taste in Edwards’ mouth, yet that won’t stop him from charging on. This group is in a collective lull, but they’ll get a kick in the rear once the season gets going.

Yup, Earnhardt Jr. will win a race this year, locking him into the playoffs. The desire will be boosted by the impending departure of crew chief Steve Letarte; he’ll want to send this career-changing element off with a smile on his face. As that partnership ends at the end of 2014, a new one begins with Newman and Richard Childress Racing. The tenacity the No. 31 now has is undeniable, admirable, and irrevocable. One bullheaded driver that’s bound to make the cut is the eldest Busch, who has finally found stability at Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s crazy to believe he has been with four different teams in the past four years, but this will be a time to prove himself. Shocking everyone will be Truex, in the team that helped Busch overcome so much last time around. It will be redemption when he gets into Victory Lane. All these racers are searching for a win to validate the changes in their professional careers.

Being out of a racecar for a long period of time is what Stewart is fighting against, and he’s not going to give up easily. However, it’s going to be difficult relearning and falling back into the motions. Stenhouse showed a lot of muscles last year, winning a pole and contending for a few wins. He’s the one most likely to sneak a win. It’s hard to believe that Gordon won’t win a race, but that’s the sad truth; he’ll make The Chase with a big goose egg in the ‘win’ column. This old dog needs to learn some new tricks to be considered competitive. Finally, the man everyone’s been talking about, Austin Dillon. Inexperience will effect his chances at winning, but his courage can get him in the title talk. What would be better than seeing the No. 3 contend for a championship?

With this new format, it’s a free-for-all; any of the drivers I’ve listed could win the title. The Chase is off in a distance, but making yourself eligible starts just around the corner.