What will NASCAR fans do now that their favorite drivers are eliminated from Chase?

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If you’re a hardcore NASCAR fan, even if your favorite driver won’t advance to the third or fourth and final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there has to be one question burning in your mind regardless:

Now what?

Contrary to what many may have thought, Sunday’s race at Talladega arguably wasn’t the biggest test of the new Chase format at all.

Rather, how the four remaining Chase races play out will be the true benchmark if NASCAR’s new-fangled elimination playoff ultimately plays with the fans as the sanctioning body hoped it would.

Will fans of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne – who accounted for eight wins in the first 32 races – return in front of their TVs or attend in-person the four remaining races in the same fashion as they would have if their favorite drivers were still in the Chase?

Or will the high expectations going into the Chase result in a flop of seismic proportions, with potentially record-low attendance numbers and TV ratings?

After all, even though your favorite now-eliminated driver will be racing in the last four races, realistically, even if he wins a race or two, will it really matter in the whole big scheme of things?

No matter how much fans hope and pray, the highest Johnson, Earnhardt, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle can finish this season is fifth place.

If I’m a Johnson fan who was anticipating him tying the championships won record of Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt this season, really, what do I have to look forward to now?

That JJ will finish fifth for the third time in his career?

Or if you’re a diehard Junior fan, will there be anything left in your personal cheering gas tank? Not only did Earnhardt fall short of advancing into the Eliminator Round, Steve Letarte will leave the team at season’s end without ever earning a championship as a Sprint Cup crew chief.

(Letarte will be joining NBC Sports next season as an analyst for its NASCAR coverage.)

Kahne gave it a great try and had the potential to be a Cinderella story, but he fell short.

Ditto Kyle Busch, whose haters must be jumping for joy right now that – once again – he’ll fail to win a championship.

Yep, doesn’t seem like there’s much to cheer about or look forward to at all.

You could not be more wrong.

In fact, there’s plenty to cheer for and to remain engaged in the four upcoming races.

What about the potential that a driver who has yet to win a race in 2014 – and there are two right now (Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman) – goes on to win the championship without ever reaching Victory Lane?

What about underdogs like Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, who’ve essentially both been flying well under the radar? They have the chance to right some past wrongs.

Hamlin can avenge the 2010 season, when it looked like he’d win it all, only to essentially fall apart in the last three races, allowing Johnson to go on and win his then-fifth championship.

Edwards can essentially have a do-over of 2011, when he tied Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup championship, only to lose by one point on the first tiebreaker (most wins in the season).

Who knows, maybe a non-Chaser will get his chance to shine in the sun. Will Tony Stewart be able to extend his streak of having earned at least one win in each of his 15 Sprint Cup seasons?

What about dark horses like David Gilliland, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and so many others? Don’t they deserve their time in the spotlight?

And just because JJ, Jr. and company won’t be able to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead, how can you – if you’re truly the diehard NASCAR fan you claim to be – not be interested in how the Chase winds up and who emerges as the champ?

Can you look yourself in the mirror and say you don’t care if Brad Keselowski can win his second crown in three years? Can you say you could care less if Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick wins their first?

And can you REALLY say you wouldn’t give a darn if Jeff Gordon, after 13 years of trying, finally wins his fifth Sprint Cup championship.

Sure, your favorite driver may not have a chance to win the title this year, but if you’re really, TRULY a NASCAR fan, you owe it to yourself – and yes, even to your favorite driver, even if he’s been eliminated – to pay attention to how the next four weeks play out.

Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss a heck of a lot still to come in these last four races, not to mention one hell of a championship battle to the end.

30 Seconds to Know: How does the Chase Eliminator round work?

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Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”