Race Weekend Review: Sept. 9-10

Written by George Webster on .

RIR NSCS Trophy 091016

NASCAR Sprint Cup Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway
Denny Hamlin scores his third win of the year; no surprises as the Chase lineup is finalized

Sept. 10, 2016: This Richmond round was the final race before the ten-race Chase for the championship begins next week at Chicagoland Speedway. Joe Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin started from the pole here and he won the race to extend his wining record to three wins for the year so far.

Ganassi driver Kyle Larson finished second ahead of Martin Truex, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. All five drivers had previously clinched their spots in the Chase by virtue of one or more race wins this season.

Truex led much of the first part of the race, leading for 175 laps in the first half-and-a-bit of the 400-lap race, but a slightly slower pit stop during the sixth caution on lap 246 dropped him back to sixth place. When things got sorted out after the restart, Hamlin was in the lead and Truex in fifth behind three Gibbs drivers – Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards – plus Kurt Busch. The race was to see another ten cautions but Truex could never seem to get back to his winning ways. During pit stops under the ninth caution on lap 293, Hamlin had a slow pit stop and restarted in eighth place while Truex got up into third behind Larson and Kasey Kahne. Truex was able to charge up past these two and take the lead for another 18 laps but he lost the lead to Hamlin on the next round of pit stops during the next caution.

After that, Hamlin held onto the lead while, through the remaining six cautions, Truex fought with Larson, Keselowski, and Kyle Busch for position behind him. It all came down to a two-lap overtime shootout. Kyle Busch gambled on a Hail-Mary play, pitting for fresh tires, but that did not pay off and he ended up in ninth-place when the dust settled. Truex took the final green alongside Hamlin but Hamlin made a rocket start and shot out into the lead leaving Truex battling for position with Larson – a battle he lost to Larson.

Of course, given that every one of the top five finishers (and both Busch brothers) had already qualified for the Chase, the results of this race had little significance for any of those six front runners. Ryan Newman went into the race 22 points behind Jamie McMurray who was positioned to be the 16th and final qualifier for the Chase – with Kahne was yet another 22 points behind him. Realistically, for Newman and Kahne, their only hope to qualify for the Chase would be by winning this race. Neither of them ever looked much like the likely winner. Kahne did finish a solid sixth while Newman, who had been fighting in a vain effort to outpace McMurray in points, was punted off by Tony Stewart near the end of the race and he ended up in 28th place. Of course, all this fussing over who would be the 16th-place qualifier for the chase is of little significance. Who here believes that McMurray will hang on thought all the elimination rounds to still be in contention for the championship at Homestead?

Newman’s crash came on lap 364 when his former teammate and car owner Tony Stewart, in an apparent fit of pique, nudged Newman a couple of times and he finally spun him into the wall setting off a multi-car wreck (the official count was eight cars involved). Newman was scathing in his commendation of Stewart’s “bipolar” behaviour while, after the race, Stewart openly admitted that he had wrecked Newman, claiming that he was justified because it was retribution for some bumping from Newman which had gone unseen on the television. Unfortunately, given that Stewart has qualified for the Chase and given that NASCAR is seemingly unwilling to do anything that might tarnish his name as he slides into retirement we might expect more of these less-than-honourable stunts from him in the final ten races before he leaves the NASCAR stage.

Chris Buescher’s flukey win at Pocono set him up for a spot in the Chase if he could just finish in the top 30 in points. His rival for the 30th spot was David Ragan. Both drivers had troubles during the race but Buescher went by his sponsor’s slogan “Play It Safe” and he came away from Richmond 29th in the points and one of the Chase qualifiers. He is a Roush driver loaned out this year over to the Front Row Racing team; none of the three regular Roush drivers qualified for the Chase. Other than that, Buescher’s qualifying for the Chase is of negligible significance.

The next Sprint Cup race is the first round of the 10-round Chase, which will get underway at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday (Sept. 17).

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The “Chase for the Sprint Cup” begins next Saturday at Chicagoland

The championships in all three NASCAR “touring” series will be determined this year by some variant of the Chase for the championship we have already known from the Sprint Cup series.

The Sprint Cup Chase will consist of ten races running from next week’s race at Chicagoland to the finale at Homestead. The Xfinity Chase will be seven rounds starting with the Kentucky race and the Camping World Truck Series Chase will also be seven rounds starting with the New Hampshire truck race. All three championships will have their final race at Homestead on the weekend of Nov. 18-20.

By now, NASCAR fans will be familiar with the elimination method NASCAR uses to determine the championship which long ago replaced the points system which recognized the driver with the best, most consistent, season-long performance as the champion. The elimination system is basically like a race track version of musical chairs with a number of drivers being eliminated from contention each time the music stops.

In the Sprint Cup Series they talk about four rounds of eliminations, but in reality there are five elimination rounds – the first being the set of 26 races that have just been completed. After Richmond, all the drivers but for 16 were eliminated from the championship race – that’s about 20 full-season drivers or just over half of the field.

The first official elimination round ends at Dover after the next three races and another four drivers will be knocked off the list. Another three races and another four drivers are out after Talladega and yet another four rounds and another four drivers are knocked out after Phoenix.

This leaves just four drivers still in contention for the championship going into the finale at Homestead. Of those four, the one who finishes highest in the race will be declared the champion. Despite the unlikely possibility of some mid-pack driver surviving through all those rounds of musical chairs and becoming the champion, the recent history has seen worthy challengers vying for the title in the final race. Indeed it almost seems like you have to win the finale to win the championship.

In the Xfinity Series there are seven races with two three-race elimination rounds followed by the winner-take-all finale at Homestead. Just 12 Xfinity drivers will qualify for their Chase. None of the Sprint Cup regulars who have competed in the Xfinity Series or the truck series races or any who are not in the top 30 in points are eligible for the Chase in either of these series. In Xfinity the 12 will drop to eight and then to four for the final elimination race at Homestead. For the trucks, eight drivers will qualify for their Chase, dropping to six after the first series of three elimination races and then to four for the finale.

Obviously NASCAR believes that the Chase system of determining the series’ champion works; they extended it to all three touring series this year.

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NASCAR Xfinity Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway
Kyle Busch and Erik Jones dominant at Richmond; Busch wins by a six-second margin

Sept. 9, 2016: The story of this race was Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs teammate Erik Jones. Busch took the lead on lap 52 of the 250-lap race and, except for two laps when Jones led the during a pit-stop exchange, he led the rest of the way to the checker.

At first it looked like it was going to be the Sprint Cup driver Dillon brother Austin Dillon’s race. He won the pole and led the first 51 laps. But coming off the first of the race’s only two cautions, Busch now had the lead while Dillon, who had had a slow pit stop, was back in fifth place. By lap 100, Jones was up to second behind Busch and that’s the way it went for the rest of the way.

Brad Keselowski finished third in the Penske Ford, Elliott Sadler was fourth and Justin Allgaier was fifth. Both Sadler and Allgaier drive for Dale Junior’s team. The Dillon brothers, Ty and Austin, finished sixth and seventh.

There’s one more race to run before the Xfinity Series’ seven-race version of Chase begins. Busch, Keselowski and Austin Dillon are full time Sprint Cup drivers and, as such, are ineligible for the Xfinity championship. The Chase is designed to give every one of the 12 drivers who qualifies a shot at the championship but one has to think that the 2016 Xfinity champion will be Jones or one of the others mentioned above.

The next race, the final Xfinity Series race before their Chase begins, will be at Chicagoland Speedway this Friday (Sept. 16).

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NASCAR Pinty’s Series Lucas Oil 250 at Autodrome St-Eustache
A third win for rookie Lapcevich effectively clinches the title for him

Sept. 10, 2016: It seems doubtful that going into the 2016 season anyone, not the 16-year-old Cayden Lapcevich or his team-owner father, ever thought that this young rookie had any realistic chance of winning the Pinty’s Series championship title this year. But after he scored two seconds and a fourth and he was second in the points after the fifth round in Toronto, the family team resolved to find the funding to continue on attempting every race.

That has paid off big time for the Lapcevich family. Now that there is just one race left in the 2016 season, Lapcevich has now won three times and he has a commanding 41-point lead over Andrew Ranger in the championship standings. Al he has to do is start next week’s finale at Kawartha Speedway to clinch the championship. It is a remarkable story.

This week’s race was run on the four-tenths-mile oval at St-Eustache, QC. Alex Labbé started from the pole and dominated the first third of the 250-lap race. There race was red-flagged for a 53-minute rain delay at lap 75 during the third caution. This threw the Labbé team into a troublesome tire-stop sequence which prevented him from regaining the lead. In the end he was bumped off the track on the final lap, finishing in ninth place.

By contrast, the Lapcevich team was the last to pit for tires – under caution on lap 213 – and that stood them in good stead. He took the restart in seventh place and quickly moved up through the field, taking the lead on lap 241. There was one more caution – the result of a collision between Jason Hathaway and Labbé – but Lapcevich held on to take the win. D. J. Kennington finished in second place ahead of Mark Dilley. Adam Martin was fourth and Alex Tagliani was fifth. Ranger, who had been Lapcevich’s closest rival in the points standings finished in eighth place, virtually guaranteeing Lapcevich the title.

The next race is the final round of the 2016 Pinty’s Series. It will be held this Saturday (Sept. 17) at Kawartha Speedway, near Fraserville, ON.

Photo credits:
NSCS Chase: Chris Graythen/©NASCAR 2016
NSCS: Matt Sullivan/©NASCAR 2016 via Getty Images
NXS: Sarah Crabill/©2016 Getty Images
NPS Lapcevich: Matthew Manor/NASCAR

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