RCR teams make limited progress towards reaching Chase at Bristol

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Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race was a race that could have helped Richard Childress Racing’s hopes of solidifying one or more of its three drivers into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But as things turned out, RCR made just limited gains. Now the pressure ratchets up much more significantly with just two races left to make the Chase.

Having finished 13th at Bristol, Ryan Newman remained in the Chase hunt, currently ranked ninth in the overall Sprint Cup standings and 14th in the 16-driver preliminary Chase field.

“Looking back, both Luke (crew chief – Lambert) and I think we should have taken four tires on that last pit stop,” Newman said. “Our No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet was just too tight that last run to maintain a top-10 spot.

“Overall, it was a good night for us, especially for our Caterpillar pit crew. They were on top of their game tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I am looking forward now to Atlanta and maybe we can get a win. It would be nice to take some pressure off of ourselves and get in the Chase.”

The driver who made the most upward progress was Paul Menard, who finished ninth in the race and, as a result, climbed two positions in the Cup season standings, from 17th to 15th.

However, because there are five drivers behind him in the rankings that have wins and have already clinched playoff berths (Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin), Menard is in a must-win situation in both Atlanta this coming Sunday and Richmond the following Saturday if he hopes to make the Chase.

“We had a good car today,” said Menard, who earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season at Bristol. “Two tires really changed the handling and were no good for our car so that set us back a little bit. I’m proud of my guys for the way they kept digging.”

Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon had the roughest night of all three RCR drivers, finishing 28th and dropping one spot in the Cup standings (from 13th to 14th).

“Tonight was definitely not the finish we were hoping for, or the way we were expecting the race to go,” Dillon said. “However, sometimes you will have instances like that and you just have to shake it off and move onto the next race.

“… We’re going to give it our all next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway to get a win and make it into the Chase.”

Much like Menard, Dillon – who leads his teammate by five points in the Cup rankings – has to win at Richmond or Atlanta.

Otherwise, he’ll fall short of his goal of making the Chase in his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski