Richmond is Chase make-or-break for MWR drivers Bowyer, Vickers

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Virtually every winless driver in the top 30 in points is still hoping for a Hail Mary chance to make it into the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup this Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

But the pressure is perhaps the most on Michael Waltrip Racing’s two Cup drivers, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers.

Bowyer had been in the Chase picture up until this past Sunday’s race at Atlanta. Between Kasey Kahne’s win and Bowyer’s 38th-place finish, the latter is now on the outside looking in when it comes to the Chase bubble.

Bowyer enters Richmond 23 points behind Greg Biffle, who is the driver on the bubble for the 16th and final Chase berth.

Bowyer can still make the Chase on points if Biffle has a tough night at Richmond and finishes 24 positions behind Bowyer in the race.

Vickers, meanwhile, is a distant 78 points behind Biffle. The only way Vickers can make the Chase is to win Saturday.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Vickers said in a team media release. “It’s going to be intense, that race, knowing that it’s not just about the guys on the cusp for points, it’s about anyone that can win.

“The intensity is going to kick in. To be honest with you, it’s been there all year. I think that every week you show up, your goal is to win and you do everything you can to try to get that win.”

Perhaps not wanting to jinx his chances, Bowyer isn’t talking about the pressure on him this weekend. But he still has plenty to say about the race itself.

“This is one of my best race tracks,” said Bowyer, who has two wins, three top-5 and nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts at the ¾-mile oval. “Looking back over the years you always have a track that fits your driving style and you’re confidence level is more for some reason and this has always been the case for me.

“We’ve run well in the Nationwide Series, always run well in the Cup Series and I’m always excited to get there. This is a fun racing weekend. The fan base is awesome. Night races are always extra special. I’m looking forward to having another good run. Like I said, this is one of my favorite race tracks. People all across the country ask you where your favorite tracks are and this is first or second on my list.”

But Bowyer and Vickers also return to the track that one year ago was the site of one of NASCAR’s biggest scandals in years.

In last season’s final Chase qualifying race at Richmond, MWR executive vice president/general manager Ty Norris wound up being suspended by NASCAR for an attempt to manipulate the finish to get then-MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase.

The ploy proved extremely costly for the organization, which was fined a NASCAR record $300,000, and also lost long-standing sponsor NAPA, which pulled its sponsorship after the incident.

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SMP Racing unveils BR1 LMP1 car in Bahrain ahead of WEC entry

SMP Racing
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SMP Racing has publicly unveiled its new BR1 LMP1 car that will enter the FIA World Endurance Championship from 2018.

SMP Racing opted to pull out of racing full-time in the WEC for 2017 in order to focus on its preparations for an LMP1 entry the following year, with the decision being taken long in advance of Porsche’s exit announcement.

Officials from the Russian-backed SMP Racing, as well as drivers including recent IndyCar racer Mikhail Aleshin (sporting a broken arm in a sling), Vitaly Petrov and Sergey Sirotkin were all on hand to unveil the car on Friday in the Bahrain International Circuit paddock ahead of this weekend’s WEC finale.

The BR Engineering BR1 features a Dallara chassis and an AER engine, and has completed over 2,000 km in private testing, with further running set to be completed in the coming weeks.

SMP Racing plans to field two cars in the WEC’s LMP1 class next year, and is keen to get as many Russian drivers as possible in the seats from its wide pool of talent.

Even with Porsche’s departure from LMP1, the class is set to feature a bigger field thanks to the increased number of privateers moving up, with Toyota set to remain the sole manufacturer in the class.