Will traditional Bristol mayhem alter Chase outlook?

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It’s probably a foregone conclusion that at least some cars will be torn up tonight as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes on the always-dicey Bristol Motor Speedway. The question is whether or not the championship dreams of some Chase hopefuls will suffer the same fate.

After tonight’s Irwin Tools Night Race, there will be just two events remaining before the field for NASCAR’s playoff stretch is set. One thing’s for sure: Nobody on or near the Chase “bubble” wants a season-ending setback tonight in Tennessee.

Here’s a look at who has the most to gain and lose – the drivers in the 7th to 15th place range in the Cup standings:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7th place, no wins; +20 points from 11th)
Last five results at Bristol: 11th, 16th, 15th, 12th, 6th.
Has not won at BMS since 2004, but has finished no worse than 18th there since 2008 night race.

Brad Keselowski (8th place, no wins; +8 points from 11th)
Last five results at Bristol: 18th, 1st, 1st, 30th, 3rd.
Interesting note from Rotoworld: Keselowski had fastest 10-lap average speed in Friday’s final practice.

Kurt Busch (9th place, no wins; +6 points from 11th)
Last five results at Bristol: 7th, 17th, 18th, 28th, 4th.
Five-time BMS winner will help Denny Hamlin lead field to the green.

Greg Biffle (10th place, one win; +4 points from 11th)
Last five results at Bristol: 8th, 31st, 13th, 19th, 11th.
Best career mark at BMS was a third-place showing in the 2005 night race.

Kasey Kahne (11th place; Wild Card, two wins)
Last five results at Bristol: 9th, 11th, 37th, 9th, 1st.
Won at BMS back in the spring and should be a threat again tonight.

Martin Truex Jr. (12th place; Wild Card, one win)
Last five results at Bristol: 17th, 2nd, 3rd, 11th, 12th.
Has not finished outside the Top 20 at BMS since the 2009 night race (22nd).

Joey Logano (13th place, one win; -7 points behind WC)
Last five results at Bristol: 23rd, 13th, 16th, 8th, 17th.
Hoping for better outcome in Bristol return following spring dust-up with Hamlin.

Jeff Gordon (14th place, no wins; -26 points behind 10th place)
Last five results at Bristol: 14th, 3rd, 35th, 3rd, 34th.
Another five-time victor at this track, but last BMS win came in 2002.

Ryan Newman (15th place, one win; -17 points behind WC)
Last five results at Bristol: 10th, 8th, 12th, 36th, 7th.
Second win this year would scramble Wild Card picture, but he has only one career Top-5 at Bristol.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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