Pressure-packed Chase fight moves to Atlanta

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With only two regular season races remaining in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the end of the Race to the Chase is in sight. And that means the already high tension among those still battling for a post-season bid will only keep building tonight in the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

For some involved in the Chase fight, it’s about maintaining that balance between wanting to go for a win and making sure to come away with the best finish possible. But for others, only a win will do to truly keep their playoff hopes going into the last regular season race next week at Richmond International Raceway.

Here’s how the Chase hopefuls are looking as we prepare for 500 miles in the Peach State:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh; no wins, +33 points over 11th)
Last five results at Atlanta: 17th, 15th, 22nd, 19th, 7th.
Has completed 99.5 percent of all the laps he’s attempted (8,034 of 8,075) at AMS in his career.

Kasey Kahne (eighth; two wins; +20 points over 11th
Last five results at Atlanta: 1st, 4th, 32nd, 34th, 23rd.
Nine of Kahne’s 16 career Cup wins have come on intermediate tracks (one to two miles).

Greg Biffle (ninth; one win, +17 points over 11th)
Last five results at Atlanta: 10th, 8th, 36, 12th, 15th.
Three Top-5s, nine Top-10s in 18 Cup starts at AMS.

Joey Logano (10th; one win, +4 points over 11th)
Last five results at Atlanta: 22nd, 35th, 27th, 24th, 18th.
Five consecutive Top-10s (plus the win at Michigan) has Logano, No. 22 team surging.

Brad Keselowski (11th, no wins; -4 points out of Top 10)
Career results at Atlanta: 36th, 25th, 6th, 3rd.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion recently tested at AMS. Could that lead to a critical win tonight?

Kurt Busch (12th, no wins; -6 points out of Top 10)
Last five results at Atlanta: 38th, 1st, 6th, 4th, 13th.
“The Outlaw” has had past success at Atlanta (three wins) and has been solid there as of late, too.

Jeff Gordon (13th, no wins; -11 points out of Top 10)
Last five results at Atlanta: 8th, 18th, 13th, 1st, 2nd.
After a win and a runner-up in his last two tries at Atlanta, Gordon needs to come up big again.

Martin Truex, Jr. (14th, one win, Wild Card #1)
Last five results at Atlanta: 26th, 27th, 12th, 14th, 4th.
With his right wrist in a cast, Truex will have to block out the pain with his Chase hopes on the line.

Ryan Newman (15th, one win, Wild Card #2)
Last five results at Atlanta: 9th, 17th, 8th, 20th, 35th.
AMS has been good for him in qualifying (seven poles), but not so much on Race Day (one Top-5 in 20 starts).

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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