Carl Edwards wins at Richmond; Chase field set

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After taking the lead from Ryan Newman on the final pit stop of the race, Carl Edwards went on to claim his second victory of the season in tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

But with Edwards already in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the bigger drama unfolded behind him as drivers jockeyed for every position they could get in the final laps as they desperately tried to move into the post-season.

Newman needed to win tonight to clinch a Wild Card spot, and with ten laps to go, he roared past Edwards on the outside to take the lead.

But a spin involving Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go brought out the yellow, and when the leaders went to pit road for service before the final shootout to the checkered flag, Newman fell from first to fifth.

On the restart with three laps left, Edwards and Kurt Busch were able to move past Paul Menard for first and second, with Edwards then able to pull away for the win. Newman was able to get up to third, but with his Wild Card rival, Martin Truex Jr., finishing seventh, the two drivers ended up tied in points – and Truex earned the tiebreaker for the final Wild Card that was up for grabs.

With both his night and title hopes ruined, Newman went on a tear.

“We got killed on pit road – there’s no doubt about that,” he said to ESPN. “Carl and those guys beat us with four tires. The guys that took two were just doing some strategy, but we should’ve been able to come on pit road first and come off pit road first.

“If we’re a championship-contending team, we need a championship-contending pit crew and we didn’t have that tonight.”

Meanwhile, Truex couldn’t believe that he was able to hold off Jeff Gordon in the final laps to maintain his grip on the Wild Card spot.

“My tires were shot, it wouldn’t turn, I couldn’t touch the gas,” a shocked Truex said. “It felt like I had oil on my tires…I don’t know how I kept him behind me. I just tried to run where he was running, try not to make mistakes. Somebody was riding with me tonight.”

Newman’s loss also enabled Joey Logano to hang on to the 10th and final automatic bid in the Chase; had Newman won, he would’ve grabbed the Wild Card and knocked Logano out of the post-season altogether.

Logano had a poor night at Richmond, finishing 22nd and one lap down. But he was able to best Jeff Gordon by one point for that 10th position in the standings.

Also clinching Top-10 bids were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle. For Busch, his Chase berth for himself and Furniture Row Racing marks the first time that a single-car operation has made NASCAR’s post-season.

“To make the Chase with these guys is an unbelievable feeling,” an emotional Busch said. “It’s been an 18-month work in progress. I’ve been through a lot and learned a lot, and I feel like I’m better ready for the Chase and life in general.”

More to come from a very big night in Virginia…

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.