As of now, three drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth – have locked themselves into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Johnson and Bowyer have clinched a Top-10 automatic berth, while Kenseth has clinched at least a Wild Card spot.
You can probably expect those three to be joined by others following tomorrow night’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This week, any driver that’s ahead of the 11th place driver in the standings by at least 49 points will lock down a Top-10 spot in the Chase.
Barring some big problems, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards will likely punch their tickets to the postseason down in Georgia. Edwards simply needs to finish 38th or better, while Harvick needs to finish of 31st or better.
Also in contention for Top-10 spots are Kyle Busch, who must finish at least 10th tomorrow, and Kenseth, who needs to come home at least seventh.
That’s the foursome that controls their own destiny. But four others can also clinch an automatic spot, and that’s the seventh-10th place bracket in the standings: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh, +33 points over 11th), Kasey Kahne (eighth, +20 over 11th), Greg Biffle (ninth; +17 over 11th), and Joey Logano (10th; +4 over 11th).
Martin Truex Jr., Logano, and Greg Biffle can all clinch at least a Wild Card Spot with a victory tomorrow and some help. All three of those drivers already have one win each this season.
Team Penske dominated the entire Kohler Grand Prix weekend at Road America, twice going 1-2-3-4 over the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and then doing the same in qualifying, with Helio Castroneves taking pole from Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud.
However, race day represented a missed opportunity. Though Castroneves led early, it was Newgarden who emerged as their best hope for victory following a spectacular outside pass on Castroneves entering turn 1 on lap 19. That put Newgarden in the lead, and he seemed to be in full control.
Still, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon had been stalking the Penske foursome all race long, and sat behind Newgarden in second for a lap 30 restart. With Newgarden on primary blacks and Dixon on alternate reds, Newgarden was somewhat of a sitting duck, and Dixon muscled his way into the lead with an equally spectacular outside pass in turn 1, with Newgarden briefly falling to third behind teammate Castroneves.
Although Newgarden regrouped, overtook Castroneves during the final pit stop sequence, and closed to within a second following a restart with seven laps remaining, he was never close enough to make a move for the win.
Even though the Team Penske drivers all finished in the top five, going 2-3-4-5 with Newgarden leading Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power, missing out on victory was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It stings a little bit coming home second when you feel like you have a winning car,” Newgarden revealed in the post-race press conference.
He added that an ill-timed lap 28 caution for a spinning Takuma Sato ultimately put paid his chances of victory. “The caution didn’t fall our way. You can’t predict that stuff. It hurts when it comes at the wrong time. That’s pretty much what happened today. With (Tim Cindric calling the strategy), I feel confident with all our decisions, everything those guys do on the pit box. Things just didn’t fall our way today.”
For Castroneves, a slight error before his final pit stop saw him pit earlier than the team wanted, due to an alarm that went off in the cockpit. However, as he explained to NBCSN’s Marty Snider, it was of little consequence to the outcome of the race.
“We mentioned in the debrief that if in turn 14, the blue lights come on, you are to come right away. So I came in. I am sure they had a little buffer, and they knew what exactly was going on. (Race engineer Jonathan Diuguid) said keep going but I couldn’t quite understand him. But at the end of the day it didn’t cost us anything in terms of a win or second place.”
Still, the strong results see Pagenaud and Castroneves sit second and third in the championship, while Newgarden and Power sit fifth and sixth, respectively.
One of the crazier, most eventful Formula 1 races in recent memory took place at the Baku City Circuit today in Azerbajian.
That makes it a challenge to recap but it’s something NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, along with producer Jason Swales, attempt to do in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass.
Valtteri Bottas says he “gave it absolutely everything” after falling a lap down and running last early on in Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Baku before fighting back to finish second for Mercedes.
Bottas qualified second for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, but dropped back after contact with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2 on the opening lap, sustaining a puncture.
Bottas fell a lap down on the field immediately, but was waved past and able to get back onto the lead lap during the first safety car period.
From there, Bottas produced a stunning fightback, dodging the minefield of incidents through the race to eventually cross the line second after a drag race to the checkered flag with Williams’ Lance Stroll.
“Today was a crazy race, especially for me. I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on Lap 1,” Bottas said.
“I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car. The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there.
“My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap. I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner.
“We didn’t quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well.”
Bottas ultimately finished as Mercedes’ lead driver following Lewis Hamilton’s second pit stop when his headrest came loose, resigning the Briton to fifth place at the checkered flag.