Results at 1.5-mile tracks will make or break your Chase

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Here’s something I haven’t been able to write much of this week in the wake of the controversies and drama surrounding the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond: a racing story leading into this week’s race at Chicago.

The overwhelming majority of NASCAR’s 12 Chasers in 2013 said the biggest key to success in terms of winning the championship is being good at the 1.5-mile ovals, the somewhat derided “cookie-cutter” intermediate ovals in-between a short track and a superspeedway.

Matt Kenseth enters 2013 as a Chase favorite because of his success on the 1.5-milers. He has a series-high five wins this year, three of them coming on the 1.5-milers at Las Vegas, Kansas and Kentucky.

“Yeah you’re right, certainly that’s been our strongsuit, mile and a half and intermediate tracks,” Kenseth told me in a phone interview last month. “I think it’s constantly a moving target. Be good everywhere but have some excellent tracks. We have a legitimate shot at the championship because of that. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I hit it off right away earlier this year, we have a really good leadership style and race team.”

If Kenseth doesn’t pull off his second career title in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, his old team Roush Fenway Racing has two contenders in Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Edwards acknowledged Chicago will provide a good outlook at Chase contenders and pretenders.

“You get a good measure of how the field is going to stack up,” Edwards said Thursday at NASCAR’s Chase media advance. “It’s a track where you can do well on your own merit. You won’t be mired in the back if you have a bad stop.”

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team has had the speed on the 1.5-milers this year but not the finishes, nor the momentum. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne said you “need” to be good at these tracks to have any sort of shot.

Here’s a rundown of race winners on the 1.5-milers this year. Note all 2013 race winners thus far are in the Chase:

3. Las Vegas   Matt Kenseth
7. Texas       Kyle Busch
8. Kansas      Matt Kenseth
12. Charlotte  Kevin Harvick
17. Kentucky   Matt Kenseth
25. Atlanta    Kyle Busch

1.5-mile races in Chase, with 2012 winner 
27. Chicago    Brad Keselowski 
30. Kansas     Matt Kenseth
31. Charlotte  Clint Bowyer
34. Texas      Jimmie Johnson
36. Homestead  Jeff Gordon

Steve Torrence takes NHRA points lead with Gatornationals victory

NHRA Gainesville Steve Torrence
Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence took the points lead Sunday in the AMALIE Motor Oil Gatornationals, beating his father, Billy, in the final round at Gainesville Raceway.

Torrence had a 3.809-second run at 322.11 mph to win for the third time this year and 39th overall. He is now on track for another championship despite missing the season opener.

“We’ve got some good momentum and to be in the points lead, it’s a testament to how hard these guys work,” Steve Torrence said after the NHRA Gainesville victory. “We’ve just got to stay focused and concentrate on what the task at hand is, and that’s trying to win a championship. These guys give me an unbelievable race car and you just try not to screw it up.”

Ron Capps won in Funny Car, Alex Laughlin in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Capps raced to his second win this year and 66th overall, beating Tim Wilkerson with a 3.937 at 323.12 in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Laughlin topped Aaron Stanfield with a 7.068 at 204.76 in a Chevrolet Camaro for his first win this season and fourth in his career. Smith rode to his first victory in 2020 and 25th overall, topping Andrew Hines with a 6.843 at 196.99 on an EBR.