Winless drivers have two more shots to lock up spots in Chase

Greg Biffle (Getty Images)
Greg Biffle (Getty Images)
Greg Biffle (Getty Images)

The formula for making NASCAR’s postseason under the new Chase format is easy.

Win and you’re in.

A driver can get into the Chase through points, but a victory alleviates any concern of missing out.

With two races left in the regular season, 12 different winners have clinched berths in the Chase. Of the winless drivers, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman can feel somewhat comfortable, sitting 83 and 42 points ahead of the cut off respectively. But the same can’t be said for Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle who man the 15th and 16th final slots. Bowyer (+31) and Biffle (+26) lead 17th-place Kyle Larson in points, but have to be worried about a winless driver currently outside the grid ousting them from the Chase.

Biffle relayed this sentiment before Bristol last week when discussing whether he should be cautious to retain his points lead or go for wins.

“You take chances, make passes, do all the things you can do,” Biffle said. “But at the same time, we know we’re on the bubble in points. I feel it’s going to take a win still to get in this thing, and that’s what we’re going for.”

Prime off-the-grid candidates that can punch their ticket into the Chase with a win in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) include: Larson, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray.

“I hope we can go there and get a win and stop worrying about points,” said Larson, who boasts a fifth-place finish in one NASCAR Nationwide Series appearance at Atlanta, but has yet to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut there. “I think 26 behind Biffle is a long way to go for two races.  Hope for some bad luck for him, but we will see.”

Kahne might pose the biggest threat having won at Atlanta twice. A Chase veteran, he has big-race experience and drives for Hendrick Motorsports, which has produced the most powerful engines in the series this year.

“I think all of us communicating and working together, it’s been better for the last month, month-and-a-half than what it was earlier in the season,” Kahne said. “We just have to do the same thing, but we need to max our points each weekend and go for wins. Hopefully between one of those we can work our way in.”

He’s coming home: Georgia native Elliott eyes victory at Atlanta

Chase Elliott’s young racing career has taken him across the country from the beaches of Daytona to the deserts of Phoenix and even over the border to Canada where he announced his presence to the NASCAR world as the then youngest victor of a national series event.

Chase Elliott. (Getty Images)
Chase Elliott. (Getty Images)

Ironically, the 18-year-old wunderkind has never competed at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a track located 80 miles south of his hometown of Dawsonville, Georgia.

In fact, the only time he has even taken a motor vehicle out on the track was when he took Great Clips customers for a spin in a pace car in July.

He will finally get the chance to race in front of his hometown crowd in Saturday’s Great Clips 300 Benefitting Feed the Children (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN 2).

“It’s always exciting to race around home, and anytime you can do that it’s definitely one of the places you want to shine,” Elliott said. “There’s no question this is one of the dates I’ve been most excited for all season long. Who doesn’t want to do well in front of their friends and family? I’m really looking forward to the weekend. This will be big.”

Even bigger than the chance to put on a show for his friends and family is the opportunity for Elliott to further strengthen his hold on the top of the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. At the moment, he leads teammate Regan Smith and fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ty Dillon by 13 and 30 points, respectively. Even after a streak of four top-10 finishes in five races following his victory at Chicago – including a third-place performance last week at Bristol – he has only been able to increase his advantage over Smith by six points.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think my pace car laps last month count as ‘experience’ at Atlanta, so I don’t really know what to expect,” Elliott said. “I have a lot of good information to lean on through my teammates and crew chief at JR Motorsports, and that’s what I plan to do until I’m able to turn some laps myself. It’s a historic track. I’ve been there many times, so I’m really looking forward to finally racing on it.”

Truck Series returns to Canada for second tilt

Last season, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made its inaugural visit to Canada, providing high-octane entertainment and making history for all those involved. Chase Elliot shook Ty Dillon on the final lap at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the trucks’ first go-around at a road course since 2000 to become the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history (17 years and nine months) – a record broken two months later by NASCAR Next member Erik Jones (17 years, five months, nine days).

Gray Gaulding (Getty Images)
Gray Gaulding (Getty Images)

In the NCWTS’ return to Canada for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 (1:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1), history can be written again, possibly by the young prospects of NASCAR or the quartet of Canadians making their truck series debuts.

John Hunter Nemechek (17 years and two months) and NASCAR Next members Gray Gaulding (16 years and six months) and Cole Custer (16 years and seven months) are all candidates to break Jones’ record for youngest race winner.

Momentum is on Nemechek and Custer’s side following respective sixth and eighth-place finishes at Bristol, but Gaulding might have the strategy down pat after competing in two NASCAR K&N Pro Series road course races this month.

“I have always loved road racing and when the schedule came out and I knew I could run this race I was pumped,” Gaulding said. “It’s extremely fast and very technical.”

First-time truck series entrants Alex Tagliani, Ray Courtemanche Jr., Cameron Hayley or Andrew Ranger could become just the third Canadian winner in NASCAR national series history and the first since Ron Fellows came up victorious in the 2008 NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

Of the four, Ranger has the most NASCAR national series experience with 17 starts on the Nationwide circuit and one appearance in Sprint Cup action. No stranger to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, he owns two wins, five top-five and six top-10 finishes in seven starts on the ten-turn track as a competitor in NASCAR’s Canadian Tire Series.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Next Race: Oral-B USA 500

The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, August 31

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN, 7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 500.5 miles (325 laps)

NASCAR Nationwide Series

Next Race: Great Clips 300 Benefitting Feed The Children

The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, August 30

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 300.3 miles (195 laps)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Next Race: Chevrolet Silverado 250

The Place: Canadian Tire Motorsports Park

The Date: Sunday, August 31

The Time: 1:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX Sports 1, 1 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 250 miles (163 laps)

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.