NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship Cup starts at Chicagoland Speedway

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 15: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion trophy is seen during NASCAR's Ready. Set. Chase. Launch Event at The Bridgeport Art CenterÕs Skyline Loft on September 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Credit: 321641Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion trophy is seen during NASCAR’s Ready. Set. Chase. Launch Event at The Bridgeport Art CenterÕs Skyline Loft on September 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400
Chicagoland Speedway Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
Sunday, Sept. 18 2:30 p.m. ET TV: NBCSN, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for Safety 300
Chicagoland Speedway Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
Saturday, Sept. 17 3 p.m. ET TV: NBC, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol E15 225
Chicagoland Speedway Distance: 225 miles (150 laps)
Friday, Sept. 16 8:30 p.m. ET TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

PrintNASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

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Cowabunga! The Chase Kicks Off At Chicagoland With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400
The field is set and the drivers are ready to compete in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which kicks off with Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers get three bonus points for each win for the first round of the Chase (Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover). Any Chase-eligible driver who visits Victory Lane advances to the ensuing round. Here’s how the grid currently shakes out: Kyle Busch (leader), Brad Keselowski (leader), Denny Hamlin (-3), Kevin Harvick (-6), Carl Edwards (-6), Martin Truex Jr. (-6), Matt Kenseth (-6), Jimmie Johnson (-6), Joey Logano (-9), Kyle Larson (-9), Tony Stewart (-9), Kurt Busch (-9), Chris Buescher (-9), Chase Elliott (-12), Austin Dillon (-12), Jamie McMurray (-12).

Six Chase-eligible drivers have won at Chicagoland: Tony Stewart (3 victories), Kevin Harvick (2), Brad Keselowski (2), Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth.

The winner of the opening Chase race has gone on to win the championship three times: Kurt Busch (2004), Tony Stewart (2011), Brad Keselowski (2012).

Red-Hot Hamlin Hopes To Defend Win At Chicagoland
Defending race-winner, and last week’s race-winner, Denny Hamlin goes for his second straight victory in Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Hamlin enters the race riding a career-high streak of eight top-10 finishes.

In 10 career starts at Chicagoland, Hamlin has one win, two top fives, four top 10s and an average finish of 17.1.

Smoke Tries To Catch Fire In Final Chase
Tony Stewart gets to start his final Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at one of the two tracks where he has more wins than any other driver – Chicagoland Speedway (the other is Watkins Glen International).

In 14 starts at Chicagoland, Stewart owns a track-record three wins, eight top fives and 10 top 10s. He also has a 101.2 driver rating, 10.6 average finish (third among active drivers) and a 10.6 average running position (sixth among active drivers).

If he can record one more victory, Stewart would become the 13th 50-race winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

Busch Embarks On Title Defense
The time is here for Kyle Busch to finish off his 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship defense.

Busch has picked up right where he left off last season. He ranks tied for the series lead with four wins and paces all drivers with 1,244 laps led. The No. 18 Toyota driver also owns 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

Busch will begin his title defense in Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. He has one win, four top fives and six top 10s in 11 starts at the 1.5-mile track. He also boasts the second-best average running position (9.2) and driver rating (106.1) in the series there.

Johnson Eyes Seventh Sprint Cup Title
Already a NASCAR immortal, Jimmie Johnson can further cement his place among the greatest of greats by winning a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this year – an achievement that would tie him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most in history.

Despite his track record, Johnson enters the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as a relative sleeper. On the year, he has two wins, seven top fives and 10 top 10s. If the season ended today, his 15.3 average finish would tie for the lowest of his career (2014).

The No. 48 Chevrolet pilot leads all drivers with 26 total Chase wins.

He is the only driver to make all 13 Chases since NASCAR first implemented the playoff format in 2004.

Johnson has never won at Chicagoland Speedway, but owns the series-best driver rating (114.1) and average running position (7.3) there. He also claims seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile track.

“For the next 10 weeks, we are in championship focus,” Johnson said. “We learned a lot last year from this format and we need to be there at the cutoffs and also to be there at the end at Homestead. We need to run well every week. There is a lot of effort going on to make this chase for our seventh championship.”

Harvick Poised To Make Second Championship Run
Don’t count out Kevin Harvick in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion might not have the most wins this season, but he boasts the best loop data statistics – an indicator more victories may come down the road.

Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average running position (8.2), driver rating (110.3) and fastest laps run (830). He ranks third with 1,211 laps led – 33 behind first-place Kyle Busch (1,244) and 23 behind second-place Martin Truex Jr. (1,234).

On the season, Harvick has two wins, 13 top fives and 21 top 10s.

Harvick has won a race at every Chase track except Texas.

NASCAR’s Young Generation Ready To Make Mark On Chase
The Chase has a youthful flavor to it this season with Chase Elliott (20), Kyle Larson (24), Chris Buescher (23) and Austin Dillon (26) all competing in their first-ever edition of NASCAR’s playoffs. Seasoned vet Joey Logano (26) is entering his fourth Chase.

Elliott and Buescher join Denny Hamlin (2006) as the only Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders to ever make the Chase. Hamlin finished third in the final championship standings as a rookie.

In addition, Larson is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate to make the Chase, and he and Elliott are the first grads of the NASCAR Next program to make the playoffs. Also noteworthy, Buescher has three over-the-wall crew members who are graduates of the NASCAR Diversity Pit Crew Program.

As drivers who got into the Chase via points, Dillon and Elliott have some ground to make up since they each start the Chase three points out of the last transfer spot. Drivers get three bonus points for each win, giving Larson and Buescher three bonus points for the Round of 16 since they both visited Victory Lane once.

Team Penske Ready To Roll In Chase
Team Penske No. 22 Ford driver Joey Logano will try to earn his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship after strong Chase performances the last two years.

The 26-year-old Connecticut native is not winning at the rate he was last season when he led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories, but he enters the Chase riding a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes. On the season, he has one win, 10 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.

Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski enters the Chase with some momentum as well. The No. 2 Team Penske driver boasts five top-three finishes, including two wins, over his last 10 starts. Keselowski is tied with Kyle Busch with a series-leading four wins and also claims 12 top fives and 17 top 10s. The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is strong at Chicagoland where he claims two wins, three top 10s and five top fives in his last seven starts.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Drivers To Sport Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Paint Schemes
Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet), Regan Smith (No. 7 Nikko RC/TMNT Raphael Chevrolet), David Ragan (No. 23 Jewel Osco/Leonardo Toyota), Landon Cassill (No. 38 TMNT Bebop Ford Ford) and Michael McDowell (No. 95 Thrivent Financial/TMNT Donatello Chevrolet) will sport Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles paint schemes this weekend.

“We are excited to add Regan, Michael and Landon to our partnerships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race,” said Anthony DiCosmo, senior vice president, sports marketing and development, Nickelodeon. “Just as we did with last season’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 will continue to expand our relationship with NASCAR, while working with another best-in-class ISC track to give fans a unique and engaging race experience that the whole family can enjoy.”

Here are my picks for the Top 10, Final & Winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship:

1. Kyle Busch Final 4
2. Kevin Harvick Final 4
3. Tony Stewart Final 4
4. Jimmie Johnson Final 4
5. Martin Truex Jr.
6. Kyle Larson
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Brad Keselowski
9. Kurt Busch
10. Chase Elliott

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 15: NASCAR Chevrolet drivers, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray pose for a photo during NASCAR's Ready. Set. Chase. Launch Event at The Bridgeport Art CenterÕs Skyline Loft on September 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Credit: 321634Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images

NASCAR Chevrolet drivers, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray pose for a photo during NASCAR’s Ready. Set. Chase. Launch Event at The Bridgeport Art CenterÕs Skyline Loft on September 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

NASCAR XFINITY SERIES

2016-sep-17-321227Two Spots Left In The Chase With One Last Chance To Make It
Saturday’s Drive for Safety 300 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC) at Chicagoland Speedway will serve as the final call for the NASCAR XFINITY Series regular season as several drivers will compete for the last two spots in the inaugural Chase.

Below is a breakdown of what each driver that hasn’t locked up a spot will need to have happen on Saturday.

Possible to Clinch at Chicagoland (sorted by Wins, then Points):
Blake Koch (0 Wins, 570 Points, +449 Points Ahead of 31st) – Would clinch on Points with 39 Points (2nd and no laps led, 3rd and led at least one lap, 4th and led most laps) and a new winner. Would clinch on Points with a repeat winner and 19 Points (22nd and no laps led, 23rd and led at least one lap, 24th and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a Chase spot on wins.
Ryan Sieg (0 Wins, 567 Points, +446 Points Ahead of 31st) – Would clinch on Points with a repeat winner (or Blake Koch win) and 22 Points (19th and no laps led, 20th and led at least one lap, 21st and led most laps). With a win, would clinch a Chase spot on wins. Could clinch on Points with a new winner and help (needs to outpoint all three of Blake Koch by 3 points and give up 19 or 20 (depending on tie-breakers) or less to Dakoda Armstrong points and 28 or 29 points or less to Jeremy Clements).
Dakoda Armstrong (0 Wins, 547 Points, +426 Points Ahead of 31st) – With a win, he would clinch a Chase spot on wins. Could clinch on Points with help (needs to outpoint all three of the following if a new winner or two out of three if there is a repeat winner: Ryan Sieg by 20 points (if he finishes 3rd or higher) or 21 points with a worse finish, Blake Koch by 23 points and give up 8 or less points to Jeremy Clements).
Jeremy Clements (0 Wins, 538 Points, +417 Points Ahead of 31st) – With a win, would clinch a Chase spot on wins. Could clinch on Points with help (needs to outpoint all three if a new winner or two out of three if there is a repeat winner: Dakoda Armstrong by 9 points, Ryan Sieg by 29 or 30 points and Blake Koch by 32 points).

The following five drivers need a win to clinch:
Ross Chastain (0 Wins, 509 Points, +388 Points Ahead of 31st)
Ryan Preece (0 Wins, 453 Points, +332 Points Ahead of 31st)
Ray Black Jr (0 Wins, 395 Points, +274 Points Ahead of 31st)
BJ McLeod (0 Wins, 345 Points, +224 Points Ahead of 31st)
Joey Gase (0 Wins, 340 Points, +219 Points Ahead of 31st)

Locked In: Chicagoland Provides Potential For Chase Bonus Points
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed added his name to the list of 10 drivers who are locked into the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase this past weekend at Richmond. Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway marks the perfect chance for those same 10 locked-in drivers to win and pad their points total to start the Chase.

Heading into this weekend with a spot in the Chase locked up means the pressure has to be much less than the drivers still vying to get in. But momentum is still key when competing in an elimination-style playoff. Currently, three series championship contenders have won this season, led by Erik Jones with three wins (+9 Chase bonus points), followed by Elliott Sadler with two (+6 Chase bonus points) and Daniel Suárez with one (+3 Chase bonus points).

While winning to advance in each round of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase is ideal, small advantages like bonus points could be the difference between advancing and being eliminated.
Of the 10 drivers locked into the Chase, only Erik Jones (2015) and Elliott Sadler (2012) are former winners at Chicagoland Speedway.

Erik Jones with his three wins and five second-place finishes will be seeded first in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase. But if Sadler were to win this weekend at Chicagoland, though his seeding would not change, he would be tied in Chase points with Jones at nine each. On the other hand, if any of the other eight drivers locked into the Chase win, their seeding will change. If Suárez wins he would move into the second seed and if any of the winless drivers locked in on points were to win they could possibly move as high as the third or fourth seeds.

Listed are the average finishes at Chicagoland Speedway of the 10 drivers who are locked into the Chase: Erik Jones (4.0), Darrell Wallace Jr. (6.5), Ty Dillon (6.5), Justin Allgaier (8.6), Daniel Suárez (9.3), Elliott Sadler (13.5), Brendan Gaughan (13.6), Ryan Reed (15.5), Brennan Poole (17.0), Ryan Sieg (18.0) and Blake Koch (31.3). This will be Sunoco Rookie of the year candidate Brandon Jones’ series debut at Chicagoland Speedway.

Former Series Champ Clint Bowyer Returns To Drive For JR Motorsports At Chicagoland
Not since the 2012 season has former NASCAR XFINITY Series champion (2008) Clint Bowyer wheeled a car in the series. That changes this weekend, as he will be piloting the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro for car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Emporia, Kansas native made his last series start at Daytona in 2012 for Joe Gibbs Racing with crew chief Adam Stevens. Bowyer’s last series start at Chicagoland was in 2008 when he drove for Richard Childress Racing, his last full-time season.

This weekend at Chicagoland, Bowyer will be working with crew chief David Elenz who has served atop the pit box for eight drivers this season – Josh Berry, Cole Custer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Kenny Habul, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman and Regan Smith.

Bowyer has made five series starts at Chicagoland, posting one top five, four top 10s and an average finish of 13.2.

Bowyer is not the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver making the extra rounds at Chicagoland in the Drive for Safety 300. He will also be joined by Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Matt DiBenedetto and Kyle Larson.

Joe Gibbs Racing Is Poised For A Record Fifth Owner Title
While a lot of attention has been focused on the driver’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase, let’s not forget the owners will also be battling it out in a Chase format to see who takes home the owner championship. Current owner points leader Joe Gibbs, with his No. 18 Toyota team, looks poised to take home a record fifth series owner title, breaking the tie for the series lead with Richard Childress (four titles each).

The Chase kicks off at Kentucky next week and when it does the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry team will be seeded first due to its 10-race wins this season. Those 10 wins translate to +30 Chase bonus points, which gives the No. 18 team a 21-point advantage on its nearest competitors – the largest to start any NASCAR national series Chase in history.

The No. 18 JGR Toyota team has been led by crew chief Chris Gayle in 2016. Gayle has worked with eight drivers this season: Kyle Busch (14 starts), Matt Tifft (three), Denny Hamlin (two), Owen Kelly (two), Bobby Labonte (one), Dakoda Armstrong (one), David Ragan (one) and Sam Hornish Jr. (one). Of the eight, Kyle Busch (eight wins), Denny Hamlin (one win) and Sam Hornish Jr. (one win) are the only drivers to visit Victory Lane.

Kyle Busch will be in the No. 18 Toyota this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Busch won this event last season from the pole. He also is the series leader in wins at Chicagoland with four.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Etc.:

NASCAR in Illinois – A total of 77 NASCAR national series races (NSCS 17, NXS 35 and NCWTS 25) have been held in the state of Illinois among five tracks – Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet (42 races), Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison (31 races), Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero (two races), Santa Fe Speedway in Willow Springs (one race) and Soldier Field in Chicago (one race). The very first NASCAR national series race held in Illinois was a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held at Santa Fe Speedway in 1954 – the event was won by Dick Rathmann (72.216 mph, 1:23:05, 07-10-1954). The NASCAR XFINITY Series held its first race in the state of Illinois at Gateway Motorsports Park in 1997 – the race was won by Elliott Sadler driving for Gary Bechtel (Chevrolet). Chicagoland Speedway held its first NASCAR XFINITY Series race in 2001 – the event was won by six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson – his lone career NASCAR XFINITY Series win. …

XFINITY Milestones – Justin Allgaier (199) will attempt to become the 60th different NASCAR XFINITY Series driver to make 200 or more career starts this weekend at Chicagoland. … Joey Logano will attempt to tie Jeff Burton for eighth on the all-time NASCAR XFINITY Series wins list with a victory this weekend at Chicago.

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

2016-sep-16-321430One More Shot To Earn Berth In NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers have one more opportunity to seize a spot in the inaugural Chase – Friday’s American Ethanol E15 225 at Chicagoland Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).
Right now, six drivers are locked in because they’ve won a race: William Byron (five victories), Matt Crafton (two), John Hunter Nemechek (2), Johnny Sauter, Ben Kennedy and Christopher Bell.

Daniel Hemric (56 points ahead of Cole Custer on the cutoff line) and Timothy Peters (+32) hold the final two spots on the eight-driver grid due to points.

Since Hemric and Peters have such large points leads, any driver outside the current top eight essentially needs to win in order to make the Chase.

TMNT-Sponsored Nemechek Goes For Second Straight Chicagoland Victory
Coming off the third win of his career earlier this month at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, John Hunter Nemechek will attempt to triumph for the second straight season at the site of his first victory – Chicagoland Speedway.

Nemechek used fuel strategy to win last season’s race at Chicagoland Speedway by 12.014 seconds – the greatest margin of victory at the track in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history.

The 19-year-old will pilot the No. 8 #TeamTurtle/#TeamFoot Chevrolet this weekend as part of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sponsorship activation.

Hemric Hauls To Third Straight Third-Place Finish
Daniel Hemric is quietly having one of the best seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He ranks second in points (28 behind William Byron) and leads the series with 12 top-10 finishes. Last race, he logged his third consecutive third-place finish in the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

His seven top-five showings are tied with Johnny Sauter for second in the series (Byron ranks first with eight). Currently seventh on the Chase Grid, a hefty 56 points ahead of second-place Cole Custer, Hemric will attempt to cement his spot in the playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway where he finished 25th last season.

He would guarantee himself a spot in the Chase with a finish of 23rd or better.

Tifft Returns To Camping World Truck Series Following Brain Surgery
Matt Tifft returns to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Friday in the No. 32 Red Horse Racing Toyota after a 10-week hiatus while recovering from brain surgery.

The NASCAR Next member tested at Hickory Motor Speedway on Monday and has been sharpening his skills with a race simulator.

Tifft has made the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts this season with a high finish of fifth at Charlotte.

NASCAR
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