Will Chase Elliott’s march to Nationwide title continue tonight in Charlotte?

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With four races to go in the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series season, a lot of things can still happen in regards to the championship.

But it’s getting harder to foresee any other outcome besides 18-year-old Chase Elliott emerging with the big prize at Homestead.

Elliott takes a 38-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith into tonight’s 300-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With three wins and an average finish of 8.0 this season, it’d be stunning to see Elliott make a self-inflicted error at this point of the year. And his luck’s been holding out too, as he’s dodged potentially disastrous incidents in each of the last two races.

Smith’s poor run last weekend at Kansas has helped create a clear path for Elliott: Finish in the Top-5 in each of the last four races, and it’s done.

And the mission is also clear for Elliott – namely, keep doing what you’ve been doing.

“Everybody is different when you get into situations when you’re battling for something,” Elliott said to the Charlotte Observer on Thursday. “It’s good to ask questions, but in your own way, you’ve got to figure out things and work through the stress that is on the team.

“I try to keep it as simple as possible and stress-free as I can and take it a week at a time. I put a lot of emphasis on that and hopefully we’re still in the hunt when it counts.”

As for Smith, who had a broken sway bar arm relegate him to a 22nd-place finish in Kansas, he’s now having to deal with Ty Dillon for runner-up honors in the standings.

Dillon has been on an impressive run as of late with 11 Top-10 finishes in the last 12 races (a run that includes his win at Indianapolis in July), and that’s helped bring him within two points of Smith.

Three 1.5-mile tracks in the last four races of the season has Dillon feeling good about his chances of getting another checkered flag before the year is out.

“Our 1.5-mile program has been stellar this entire season,” he said this week. “We’ve been able to knock off some Top-5 finishes, our teammate Brendan (Gaughan) got a victory in Kentucky and we just feel very confident in our program.

“You have to really credit ECR Engines for giving us the power and our guys for really building a strong notebook. I think if we stay focused on what we’ve been doing these past few weeks, a win is inevitable.”

Smith on the other hand will try to pull himself and the No. 7 team back up tonight.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get another win before this season’s end,” he said. “And it’s far from over. You never know how things will shake out by year’s end. So we’re looking forward to racing Charlotte under the lights.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III