Ryan Newman set to capture Chase berth tomorrow in Richmond

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The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems for Ryan Newman.

Newman and the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have had 25 races to get used to the new Chase format, which rewards regular season winners with post-season berths.

But just as he was one year ago, Newman is on the Chase bubble again going into the final regular season race.

“The irony to me is it seems like no matter what the format is, I still end up being that guy that’s either in or out of the bubble,” he noted today at Richmond International Raceway. “Right now, I’m ninth in points. There have been years I’ve been 12th in points, 11th in points. If you moved the championship points system around in different years, I’d have been really good a couple of years.

“But in the end, it is what it is. It’s the same for everybody. We know it going into [the Daytona 500] what we have to do coming into Richmond. It still involves winning races, whether it’s “win and you’re in” or “win and you have a better chance of being in.” Those points all add up.”

The good news for Newman is that even though he doesn’t have a win in 2014, the points have indeed added up in his favor ahead of Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

Six Top-15 finishes in the last seven races have solidified his standing to where he just needs to finish 18th or better Saturday to earn one of the two remaining Chase spots. He currently holds the 15th position on the Chase Grid at 42 points up on 16th-place Greg Biffle.

But with Biffle, Clint Bowyer (-23 behind Biffle), Kyle Larson (-24 behind Biffle), and every other winless driver in the Top 30 of the standings ready to go for broke tomorrow, Newman admitted that it would be naive of him to not have concerns about the aggressive of his competitors.

However, he also seemed to indicate that the race manipulation incident one year ago at RIR (which helped put him outside of the Chase until NASCAR stepped in) will lead to more scrutiny of any notable incidents.

“I think after what happened last year, the magnifying glass is zoomed in a little tighter than it used to be, and that we’ll have a good race,” Newman said. “It would be good for our sport not to have what happened last year, in any form or fashion, this year.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.