Race to Chase update: Multiple drivers punch tickets in Atlanta

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As expected, last night’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (the 25th of 26 regular season races in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) saw multiple drivers clinch berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kyle Busch burst into NASCAR’s postseason with a flourish, bagging his fourth win of the year to mark his return to the Chase after failing to make it in last year. Additional Top-10 “automatic” spots were secured last night by Kevin Harvick (who finished 9th), Matt Kenseth (who finished 12th), and Carl Edwards (who finished 18th).

Also, despite finishing 36th after an early incident, Kasey Kahne clinched at least one of the two Wild Card spots on the strength of his two regular season wins at Bristol in the spring and at Pocono last month.

Throw in the two other “automatic” drivers – points leader Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer – and that means seven of the 12 Chase spots have been spoken for.

In regards to a Top-10 spot in the Chase, four drivers will head into the final regular season race at Richmond International Raceway in control of their destiny:

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr., who sits seventh in the standings at 37 points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by finishing 32nd or better at RIR (33rd with at least one lap led, 34th with most laps led).
  • Joey Logano, who sits eighth in the standings at 16 points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by finishing 11th or better (12th with at least one lap led, 13th with most laps led).
  • Greg Biffle, currently ninth in the standings at 14 points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by finishing ninth or better (10th with at least one lap led, 11th with most laps led).
  • Kurt Busch, currently 10th in the standings at six points above 11th place, can clinch a Top-10 spot by winning the race (second with at least one lap led, third with most laps led).

Jeff Gordon (11th in the standings), Martin Truex Jr. (13th), and Ryan Newman (14th) can all clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a win at Richmond. All three of these drivers had great results at Atlanta, with Truex finishing third, Newman fifth, and Gordon sixth.

But things are much trickier for Brad Keselowski after his engine failure in the latter stages of last night’s event. He sits 28 points out of the Top 10 and has no wins. Thus, he must be victorious at Richmond to have any hope of a Wild Card spot.

Here’s how the table looks:

1. Jimmie Johnson – 837 points, four wins
2. Clint Bowyer – 809 points, no wins
3. Kevin Harvick – 795 points, two wins
4. Carl Edwards – 795 points, one win
5. Kyle Busch – 786 points, four wins
6. Matt Kenseth – 768 points, five wins
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 750 points, no wins
8. Joey Logano – 729 points, one win
9. Greg Biffle – 727 points, one win
10. Kurt Busch – 719 points, no wins
11. Jeff Gordon – six points behind Ku. Busch, no wins
12. Kasey Kahne – WC #1, -10 points, two wins
13. Martin Truex Jr. – WC #2, -15 points, one win
14. Ryan Newman, -20 points, one win
15. Brad Keselowski, -28 points, no wins
16. Jamie McMurray, -39 points, no wins
17. Paul Menard, -61 points, no wins

LOCKED IN: Johnson, Bowyer, Harvick, Edwards, Ky. Busch, Kenseth, Kahne.
VIRTUAL LOCK: Earnhardt Jr.
ALMOST LOCKS: Logano, Biffle.
IN RANGE: Ku. Busch, Gordon, Truex Jr., Newman.
OUT OF RANGE: Keselowski.
VIRTUALLY ELIMINATED: McMurray, Menard.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.