Questions to ponder as the Chase begins – finally

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Clint Bowyer’s fateful spin with seven laps to go last Saturday night at Richmond began one of the most tumultuous weeks in the history of NASCAR.

And as the sanctioning body scrambled to restore credibility in the eyes of its fans – twice altering its post-season field in the span of five days – surely there was a moment where everyone involved surveyed it all and inwardly sighed.

“Sunday can’t come soon enough.”

Well, folks, Sunday is here. And so is a Chase that, before it has officially begun, is already unlike any other we’ve seen in its 10-year run as the Sprint Cup Series’ post-season system.

The first battleground: The 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway, the kind of bread-and-butter intermediate track that makes up the majority of the Chase schedule. What we see today outside the Windy City could very well show who will have the edge this fall and who’s gonna have to dig a little deeper.

As NASCAR’s big stretch run to the championship begins today, questions are plentiful about a Chase that feels very tough to predict:

    • After a stellar regular season with five victories (three of which came on those all-important 1.5-mile ovals), can top seed Matt Kenseth cap off what has been his most competitive season to date with a second Cup title – and his first in the Chase format?
    • Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 crew hit the skids heading into the Chase with four straight finishes of 28th or worse. Can one of the sport’s most dominant squads find their groove again when it counts?
    • Kyle Busch has been very strong this year, racking up both wins and consistently high results. Could he be the one that delivers the biggest push for Kenseth, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, in the Chase? And if so, what kind of effects would it have on the JGR team as we get closer to the Homestead finale?
    • Kurt Busch has already pulled off a major feat by getting the small Furniture Row Racing team into the Chase. But while he’s got the talent and the pace to make an impact, will his pit crew ultimately help or hurt his chances?
    • The Ford camp seems to have picked up the pace, as evidenced by Carl Edwards’ victory last Saturday at Richmond. But will it be enough to enable Edwards, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano to overcome their Chevy and Toyota rivals?
    • There’s been nothing “lame duck” about Kevin Harvick’s final campaign with Richard Childress Racing, but can he get R.C. his first Cup title since 1994 (Dale Earnhardt, Sr.) before going off to Stewart-Haas Racing?
    • Prior to Richmond, Logano had been the hottest driver in the garage. But last Saturday was far from his finest hour on the track, and he’s been part of this week’s mayhem. Will that distraction help derail his drive for a title in his first Chase?
    • Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Ryan Newman have had their ups and downs this regular season, and not many are picking them as legitimate title contenders. Can they find the consistency that hasn’t always been there for them in 2013?
    • Now in the playoffs as a 13th Chaser, Jeff Gordon maintains that a fire has been lit under him and the No. 24 team. But he too has been admittedly iffy at times. That said, will he be so inspired by being in the Chase that he’ll have a proper say in its outcome?
    • Finally, there’s Bowyer, the one that started the whole firestorm but is still in the mix for a championship even after the penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing. His question is the same as Logano’s: Will the controversy prove to wear him down? Another valid query: What kind of unholy rage will the NASCAR diehards unleash if Bowyer does do well?

IMSA: CJ Wilson Racing to enter WeatherTech Championship

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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CJ Wilson Racing, a championship winning team in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, is set to join the ranks of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team will make its IMSA debut during testing this week at Sebring International Raceway and will campaign an Acura NSX GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer are scheduled to handle the driving duties during the Sebring test, and a third driver, to be named at a later date, will join them for their debut race at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 17.

“As a young kid watching IMSA races, it was always my dream to race in the premier sports car series,” said team owner and former MLB all-star pitcher Wilson. “It looks like I still have some time before I race in (the) WeatherTech (Championship, as a driver) but I’m happy for Marc and Till to take on the toughest track in the country in the NSX.”

Wilson continued, “We have been aiming to get into this paddock for years but now the real fight begins to see what we can do against the much more experienced teams. So, we felt like, hey, if we’re going to go in and spend X-amount of dollars, maybe we’re better off spending that in GTD, getting our feet wet, and taking a real run at this and being where we want to be, which is having a chance to compete with the best teams in the Western Hemisphere.”
In addition to Sebring, the team will contest the other two rounds of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup – the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the Motul Petit Le Mans – with plans to add additional events, as team manager Andris Laivins explained.
“Right now, the plan is to run the remainder of the Patrón NAEC, and hopefully add on a couple other rounds as we go,” Laivins detailed. “Last fall, as we approached Thanksgiving, it became clear that putting a proper effort on track for the Roar and Daytona was going to be tough, and the last thing you want to do is show up to the biggest race of the year unprepared, so we made the tough choice to sit it out and keep working.”
CJ Wilson Racing’s IMSA efforts date back to 2010, when the team debuted in the Mazda MX-5 Cup as well as what is now called the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The team went on to win a championship in 2015, in the Street Tuner class of the Continental Tire Challenge.
The team currently fields Porsches in the Continental Tire Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class. Wilson himself has also been an IMSA competitor as a driver, most recently competing in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series last year.