UPDATE: Truck racing at Eldora underway; 5 heat races, LCQ in books

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UPDATE: 8:50 p.m. ET: The final five qualifiers for the main race have been determined after the Last Chance Qualifier. Brennan Newberry won over Jeff Babcock, Jason Bowles and Justin Jennings.

But the hero of the race, and the fifth and final qualifier, was Norm Benning. Benning (No. 57, right, shown in practice) would not be denied as he slipped, slid and bounced off the wall in an effort to hold onto fifth place after a restart.

“I just never lifted. I love Tony Stewart’s track. I’ve been waiting for this race since the day of the announcement,” Benning said to SPEED Channel pit reporter Ray Dunlap.

Clay Greenfield, Jimmy Weller, Bryan Silas and Joe Cobb came up short of making the race. Also caught out was JR Heffner, who headed to the pit lane immediately after the start.

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UPDATE, 8:15 p.m. ET: The five qualifying heat races are in the books. Here’s a recap.

Ken Schrader backed up his fastest lap in qualifying with a win in the first of five heat races. He’ll start on pole for the main feature later Wednesday night. JR Heffner (finished second) and Jimmy Weller (sixth) were sent to the last chance qualifier.

The first caution of the heat races flew in heat two, for a quick spin by Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. with three laps to go. Despite a late charge from Matt Crafton on the lowest line of the track, Justin Landers held off for the win ahead of him in the heat race. Jeff Babcock (fifth) and Norm Benning (seventh) had to race through the LCQ.

Timothy Peters led flag-to-flag to win heat three, while Kyle Larson held off Jason Bowles in a battle for the transfer spot in third place. Bowles (fourth) and Clay Greenfield (seventh) went to the LCQ.

In heat four, Kenny Wallace took the win, Max Gresham (third) transferred in and Brennan Newberry (fifth) and Joe Cobb (seventh) went to the LCQ.

Jeb Burton held off Ryan Newman in a side-by-side battle in heat five. Newman was the transfer driver with Justin Jennings (sixth) and Bryan Silas (seventh) sent to the LCQ.

The starting lineup for the 15-lap last-chance race: 1. JR Heffner, 2. Jeff Babcock, 3. Jason Bowles, 4. Brennan Newberry, 5. Justin Jennings, 6. Jason Weller III, 7. Norm Benning, 8. Clay Greenfield, 9. Joe Cobb, 10. Bryan Silas.

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The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ dirt race at Eldora is underway. The heat races are about to begin after qualifying, where Ken Schrader was the fastest qualifier.

Schrader, though, will have to race his way in via his heat race or a last chance qualifier as he is not one of the 20 of 30 trucks locked into the race from owner points.

Here’s the race format:

  • Five qualifying heat races. 8 laps apiece. Only green flag laps count. 7 trucks in each race, with the top 5 advancing to the feature.
  • Last chance qualifier. 15 laps. 10 trucks entered. The top 5 advance.
  • Mudsummer Classic Feature: 30 trucks to start. 150 laps. Segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.