Phoenix had the eyes of NASCAR all day Sunday as the last chance “race in” was held by rare rain. While fans tuned in for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 they instead were treated to a series of race replays showing the CHASE races and events that led up to the race at Phoenix. The victories and the eliminations, the crashes and the grudges that played out to set the circumstances of good drivers on the line or below it to advance to Homestead.
The big winner was the weather forcing NASCAR to start much later than intended only to cut the race when more rain came. The timing of the rain left the #88 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out front when NASCAR dropped the final red flag. That left many drivers out of it when there was still enough race left for the possibility of racing in. After a long day of waiting the weather also left fans a bit damp for not being able to see a full race and a real play of racing to the finish with those in contention to make the CHASE final four.
Jeff Gordon, winner at Martinsville after the Logano/Kenseth smash up, had the only CHASE advance win and will be joined at Homestead for a championship run by Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. Following the delay and rain at Phoenix it was a points play for the three joining Gordon.
The championship run was ended for Joey Logano,  Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Logano has 6 wins in the season including the run of the three CHASE Contender races. Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch both have two season wins and Keselowski made the CHASE with one.
The four drivers going to Homestaed and the final championship race score with 4 wins with Kyle Busch, 3 wins with Kevin Harvick and one win each for Martin Truex, Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Gordon’s win was pivotal for the #24 team coming at a time when the retiring driver needed it most surviving to the Eliminator round and facing an uphill battle to stay.
The Sprint Cup championship is now on the line. Homestead and the season finale is coming up. Four remain to race for the cup. Thirty-nine others will be out there for a final season win to carry back to their sponsors and fans.
Go Racing!

A wet beginning to Martinsville race day set in motion a rather unconventional start with the first few laps ticking away under caution while the dryers finished up on pit road. The drivers had been introduced while the cars were being put out. The time change put a crush on the start time to make sure the race rolled under the checkers with enough daylight for fans and drivers to finish the day.

It all went off in time, just barely, while the time between the green and the checkers delivered just a little bit more than the typical Martinsville mayhem.

Joey Logano had the pole and a target on his back from seven other drivers in the CHASE and one other with a grudge, real or imagined.

From the start it looked like Logano’s race to lose. There were some lead changes and some CHASE drivers put in the garage. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski had laps lost with damage but Logano seemed to stay either up front or close enough to it to see his run continue.

Then there was Matt Kenseth. Kenseth was also in the wreck that put the #41 and the #2 in the garage. With the race and the checkers closing in the #20 and Kenseth were back out on the track. As Logano came around the #20 through turn one Kenseth tucked the nose under the #22 and both went straight as an arrow into the wall.

Logano’s day was done going from what looked like a win and a CHASE advance to the bottom of the grid. This also set up a finish that would put the grandstands in a frenzy.

With the #22 down, the race put the #24 of Jeff Gordon in position and the final restart played out with Jamie McMurray on the outside of the #24 and unable to nose out and ultimately tucking in behind Gordon. The fans were stomping the stands as the #24 rolled through the checkered flag for Gordon’s first win of the season and his ninth win at Martinsville. It also sets the #24 in place to race for a final championship at Homestead.

Joey Logano will need to win one of the two remaining Eliminator races to be in position at Homestead. He will be on a mission to do so. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, however, will be sharing that need so the push to be up front at Texas and Phoenix will be a CHASE battle with all on the line. Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick are currently on both sides of the bubble with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. both 8 points behind Gordon.

It is Jeff Gordon’s last season. This year has been less than great for the #24 but Gordon and his team have managed to keep themselves in play and Martinsville may have given them the surge, late as it may be, to push to the end.

There is no doubt Gordon’s win came as a direct result of the feud between the #22 and the #20. Logano fans made it clear with a colorful chant from the stands during Gordon’s victory celebration while Gordon himself acknowledged them with fist pumps to the rhythm.

That little track in Martinsville has set another notch on the side of the grandfather clock that records the history making it one of the game changers for the sport.

For fans that saw the weather and stayed home… You missed a big one!

Well… That was just a tiny bit disappointing.

Talladega went to an almost traditional, just about can’t have a Sprint Cup race without it, green-white-checkered finish.


Before the green had even waved on the start, NASCAR decided that for this race at Talladega there would be only one green-white-checkered, if it came to it.

Which, of course, it did…

Jamie McMurray blew the engine with five laps to go. Yeah! The green-white -checkered finish is on.
Technically, Greg Biffle was on the first slot for the restart but he pitted just before the pace car dropped leaving Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the front row. The green. Someone didn’t get the memo and the push behind the front two caused a spin by Johnson in the #48. The yellow was thrown before the start-finish line.

So… That G-W-C wasn’t really “the one” because they hadn’t crossed to race. So there will be another, only one, green-white-checkered.

They line up and are off, again. Trevor Bayne goes on the outside of Kevin Harvick’s ailing #4 a few rows back. Harvick goes up as the #6 passes to get out of the way, maybe…

The #4 clips the #6. The Talladega “big one” sets cars bouncing off each other in true NASCAR pin ball action as the #22 and the #88 go over the start-finish line. When the yellow drops it is determined that Logano and the #22 was indeed out front for a caution flag finish.

This gives Logano a sweep of the Contender Round with all three wins and puts Dale, Jr. out of the CHASE as he was in a “must win” scenario for Talladega. It was, in many ways, a Dale Jr. day up to these last laps and restarts. The #88 was up front, fell back, took a drive through penalty and was even one position from a lap down. Dale drove back to the front and was there to race Logano, ultimately, for the yellow flag.

For the fans the final laps and the finish gave many a convenient method for disposing of late race trash as the fences weren’t nearly strong enough to keep the cans and other debris from flying out on the track as Logano was doing the burn out.

Drivers caught in the “big one” let emotions and frustrations out and accusations, subtle or direct, were quickly let loose. Everything from the CHASE format itself to finger pointing to a possibility that the crash was deliberate to hold position in the field was thrown out in post race interviews.

Whatever…  Drivers still in The CHASE for the Eliminator Round are: Joey Logano | Carl Edwards | Jeff Gordon | Kurt Busch | Brad Keselowski | Martin Truex Jr | Kevin Harvick | Kyle Busch.

Gordon, by the way, started on pole and raced well through the day. His final season continues in the CHASE. Logano may have a 3 consecutive win momentum going forward but Gordon has, after a season that has been somewhat lackluster, a huge hunger to make an exit with a Cup.

The CHASE continues to Martinsville for the start of a new round of three races. By the time drivers get on the track for the only short track in the CHASE Talladega will be in the mirror but the drama from it has a big chance to carry over. As a side note, Dale Jr. won at Martinsville last Fall after being eliminated from the CHASE the week before. That points back to the rest of the field beyond the CHASE. All of the drivers are going for the front. Some for the championship but all have a thirst for the win as their fans, sponsors and the next season look on.

We’ll see at the races!

The CHASE is well under way. Racing at Richmond sealed the deal for the 16 drivers and teams still in the “chase” for the Sprint Cup Championship. From Richmond the circus has raced through Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover to fill out the “Challenger” round of the CHASE. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick were winners in that set and advance forward with nine others with points to the “Contender” round of three more races at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega.

Wins or points will advance. Four at the bottom will be out of “Cup” contention after Talladega

This will begin the “Eliminator” round consisting of Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. There will be over 40 drivers on the tracks but only eight will be on the grid for the Sprint Cup. The others will be along to race for their sponsors, their team, their fans…

When they reach Homestead there will be four going for the “Cup”.

The only short track in the CHASE is Martinsville. The Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 is positioned at the start of the “Eliminator” round and could be a wild card on the way to Homestead. Having Talladega close the “Contender” round and Martinsville up next to start the next round is set to shake things up. The danger of the “big one” at Talladega and the challenge of the short track is going to test the patience and the strategy of racing.

For Martinsville the track is getting set to start the three races of the “Eliminator” round with a big regional lead-in as the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 rolls just three weeks before the Cup folks come in. (The VSCU 300 was put off a week as east coast storms battered the original run date)

The general consensus from late model to Cup is that Martinsville is a hard nut to crack. Drivers running for the first few times find it difficult with the low banking, tight lines and rhythm of speed to braking. Veterans are caught up in the traffic of those who can’t quite find a groove. The tight racing causes bumps and pushes and frustration.  Keeping the wheel in the center of patience is often key to a good finish but the temptation to push the driver a little harder for the bump that lost you 4 spots 80 laps ago runs hot.

Martinsville is a driver’s puzzle and a fan favorite with good views of the entire race from practically anywhere.
The curbs are pink for October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There have been visits by drivers having some fun with the speedway from Clint Bowyer racing go-karts with track President Clay Campbell to Kyle Larson picking up a pink brush and driving cancer survivors around the track. The late model drivers in the region have already had a practice day and the Cup drivers have it in their sights.

Martinsville, and the CHASE, is coming together.

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The CHASE is on the charts this weekend. Coming into Darlington the bubble riders were looking at all options to cross over to the win and try to relax for even a week. Carl Edwards padded his position with the win.

Now all eyes are on Richmond. It is the last chance to win and clinch or run well enough to hold points to edge in.
With the green flag at Richmond just days away, the season winners with their spot in the CHASE secure are;
Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.

Winless so far but riding the points are;
Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.

Richmond may be the crossover race to the CHASE but the pressure is on for those drivers without a win to push and push hard. They are in a position that requires nothing less than up front driving. If those final laps creep up and they are not in the top 5 their bubbles could burst. The cards will be dealt when they unload the trailers, the “flop” hits at practice, qualifying will see the “turn” and Saturday night the checkered flag will be the “river”. It doesn’t really matter which cards are dealt as “all in” will be the bet. It is win, top 5 or likely finish the season out of the championship run.

For race fans this should all add up to an exciting evening of racing. The clinchers aren’t going to set back and relax as they will want to pad their CHASE position on the grid. The bubbles will be driving with an “all or nothing” mindset and every other driver will have an “I win I’m in” attitude. This all sets the scene to be on the edge of the seat from green to checkers.

The final chance at the Sprint Cup CHASE at Richmond is Saturday night with the Federated Auto Parts 400 (9-12).
Friday night (9-11) is the Xfinity Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250.
The K&N Series also races Thursday night (9-10) with the UNOH 100.

Richmond International Raceway is on tap for three nights of speed plus the action of the final fight to make the CHASE.

Let’s go racing!

Talladega – Clean air out front at the finish with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Mid-field turbulence tore up some others…

The #88 of Dale, Jr. was out front and holding position while team mate Johnson in the #48 was chasing but not really catching. Others made moves including Denny Hamlin but really just opened the train to multiple lanes crossing the finish.

Talladega also saw the challenge of close racing at speed as air pressure pulled and pushed the field. Early on it was Trevor Bayne going loose with Menard on the outside and Kurt Busch on the inside. The air went rough and the tail of Bayne’s Ford went wild triggering a spin in the field that put quite a few either out or down with repairs.

For Earnhardt, it was a sweet and emotional win as he spoke somewhat softly in Victory Lane. Excited, yes, but also reserved while expressing his view on his team, his personal life and how it is all coming together with his racing and feeling really thankful. Talladega notches his first points win of the season and puts The CHASE in view for the #88.

Top 5 across the line at Talladega: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex, Jr.

Dale Jr. moves into the the #5 spot in points with Kevin Harvick still on top. Martin Truex, Jr. is second in points with solid finishes but the only driver in the top 5 with no wins in 2015. Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano fill up spots three and four.

Next up: Kansas

The irony is thick as the day closed on the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Consider… Talladega was just one week ago. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran into some unfortunate luck in the final laps and was pushed out of contention for the CHASE and the Sprint Cup championship. During a pre-race presentation, Dale Jr. spoke of growing up with his father’s grandfather clock from Martinsville always in plain view.

With CHASE drivers pushing every limit, it was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who drove the #88 to Victory Lane to earn his own Martinsville grandfather clock.

Team mate Jeff Gordon also had a good day to take a lead in the CHASE. Ryan Newman, an underdog coming into the CHASE, is sitting in the 2nd slot. Oddly enough, it was Newman who visited Martinsville High School as the CHASE was announced and getting under way. Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin round out the top 5 in current Eliminator Round points.

The CHASE has been throwing drama at the tracks and the fans this season and Dale Jr.’s first win at Martinsville has added to it while shaking the grandstands at Martinsville to a post-race rumble. There is more on the way with 3 races to go…

Drop everything and go racing!

Full Gallery from Martinsville Speedway!