With three races left, will non-Chasers have a big say in who winds up as Sprint Cup champ?

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Next to Talladega, Martinsville Speedway is arguably the second-biggest (in importance, not size) wildcard track in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Anything can happen at the half-mile bull ring – and usually does, much like we saw in Sunday’s race there.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win there was well-deserved, no question about it. Unfortunately for Junior fans, it came one race too late.

Otherwise, he would be part of the Eliminator Round right now, rather than being one of the eight drivers that have been eliminated from the Chase thus far.

Still, Junior deserves the kudos and accolades he received. But at the same time, could the way Sunday’s race played out overall also be a harbinger of things to come in the remaining three races of the season?

I’m talking about the fact that five of the top-10 finishers at Martinsville were either now-former Chase contenders or never made the playoffs to begin with.

We start with Earnhardt, then Tony Stewart, who tied his season-best finish with a fourth-place showing in arguably the best race he’s driven this season.

And then there were Clint Bowyer (7th), AJ Allmendinger (9th) and David Ragan (10th).

We can even extrapolate that a bit further: From 11th through 20th, there was only one Chaser, as Carl Edwards came home with a 20th place showing).

Go even further than that, and the two remaining Chasers finished 31st (Brad Keselowski) and 33rd (Kevin Harvick), respectively.

Again, this was Martinsville. It’s totally unlike the next racetrack on the schedule, this coming Sunday at Texas. But you could draw some comparisons between Martinsville and the one-mile relatively flat track at Phoenix, a place oftentimes called Martinsville on steroids.

Could the eliminated or non-Chasers potentially wind up stealing the show from here on out with three races left for the championship?

I’m not saying that’s likely, but it is something to be taken into some serious consideration. If guys like Junior, Stewart and Bowyer continue their prowess and momentum gained at Martinsville, the championship could ultimately see a significant part of the way it plays out directly decided by the Chase have-nots rather than the haves.

And I haven’t even broached the subject that as of right now, two of the four top-ranked drivers remaining in the Chase (Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth) still have yet to win a race in 2014.

If the current standings hold serve through Texas and Phoenix, we potentially may have a four-time champion (Gordon), two non-winners this season (Newman and Kenseth), two potential first-time champions (Newman and Logano) and one other former champion (Kenseth, 2003) who has waited nearly as long as Gordon has for another title, as the makeup of the final four in the season finale at Homestead.

In other words, we won’t have a Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt, Kurt or Kyle Busch, Stewart, Kasey Kahne in the running for the championship, and with the potential of Keselowski and Harvick out of it if they can’t right their suddenly listing ships in the next two races.

We’ve seen some pretty crazy racing in this year’s reformatted Chase, particularly the last two races.

But if Talladega and Martinsville are an example of what’s to come, this Chase is going to get a lot crazier before a sane champion emerges.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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.