Chase’s version of musical chairs: nine drivers to battle for five advancement spots at Dover

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When NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France announced the revised format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup earlier this year, he promised drama, pathos and intrigue as the 10-race playoff played out.

Well, here we are just two races in and there’s going to be a boatload of the France-promised drama, pathos, etc., heading into next Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway.

The third race of the Chase, Dover will also mark the cut-off for the first of three elimination rounds in the playoffs.

More: Joey Logano avoids “yellow fever,” wins at N.H. to advance in Chase

In a racing version of musical chairs, four drivers will be eliminated after Dover. And heading there, right now, a total of nine drivers are on the elimination bubble.

Five of those nine will make it, four won’t.

And there is only 12 points separating those nine drivers.

Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are tied for eighth in the Chase standings, each 40 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski.

AJ Allmendinger is one point back, in 10th place, 41 points behind Keselowski, while Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are tied for 11th, both 42 points back.

At this juncture, Kahne and Newman are on the good side of the Chase cutoff bubble.

Then there are the four drivers who, as of this writing, are on the outside looking in, with one race left to put themselves back on the positive side of the ledger.

Chase standings after New Hampshire:
1 Brad Keselowski
2 Joey Logano -1
3 Kevin Harvick -7
4 Jimmie Johnson -17
5 Kyle Busch -20
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. -20
7 Jeff Gordon -27
8 Matt Kenseth -40
8 Carl Edwards -40
10 AJ Allmendinger -41
11 Kasey Kahne -42
11 Ryan Newman -42
13 Denny Hamlin -48
13 Greg Biffle -48
15 Kurt Busch -50
16 Aric Almirola -52

Denny Hamlin suffered the biggest blow of all Chase drivers Sunday, dropping seven places from sixth to a tie with Greg Biffle for 13th, both drivers 48 points behind Keselowski.

Hamlin had one of the roughest days he’s ever had in his Cup career Sunday. First, he suffered a problem with the fuel filler receptacle, which prevented his team from being able to add fuel to Hamlin’s Camry.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, Hamlin’s day came to a crashing halt when he was involved in a three-car wreck with David Ragan and Martin Truex Jr., relegating Hamlin to a disappointing 37th-place finish.

Biffle, who barely managed to make the Chase as one of three drivers without a win thus far this season (and all three, Biffle, Kenseth and Newman remain winless in 2014), just could not get on track in Sunday’s race – one that he has previously won – and finds himself in 14th place in the rankings heading to Dover.

Unless Biffle makes a dramatic turnaround and garners a top-five finish next Sunday, his Chase hopes are also likely over.

Kurt Busch struggled Sunday, first with a loose wheel, and then later wrecked when a severe tire rub caused him to hit hard into the Turn 3 wall. As a result, Busch dropped six places in the standings to 15th, leaving him 50 points behind Keselowski and eight points behind the present cut-off guys, Newman and Kahne.

Last, but not least, Aric Almirola rebounded strongly from last week’s Chase-opening disappointment at Chicago. Almirola finished sixth at New Hampshire. Ironically, he was running sixth at Chicagoland when the motor on his Ford Fusion let go, relegating him to a 41st-place finish in that race.

And while he finished strong Sunday, Almirola unfortunately failed to gain even one point on Keselowski, remaining 52 points back – the same margin that he trailed Keselowski by coming into Sunday’s race.

Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (both 20 points behind Keselowski), who are tied for fifth, and seventh-ranked Jeff Gordon (27 points back) are all mathematically eligible to be eliminated, as well, but the odds of that happening are unlikely, given the edge they have over the rest of the Chase field.

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.