Fuel & Tires: First Chase cut-off race in Sprint Cup; IndyCar silly season; Formula 1 in Malaysia

 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series hit Dover International Speedway this weekend while the Camping World Truck Series visits Las Vegas and Formula One races in Malaysia. Elsewhere, the IndyCar silly season gets rolling.

FIRST CHASE CUT-OFF RACE

With Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick as the only drivers who are guaranteed to move on to the next round of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, you can bet that the other 14 drivers will be trying everything they can to win this weekend. Dover represents the first cut-off race that will trim the Chase field down to twelve drivers.

One possible outcome is that Jimmie Johnson, who currently sits eighth in points, will win at Dover for the eleventh time to keep hope alive for a seventh title. Or perhaps Matt Kenseth, who let a win slip away last weekend at Loudon, will complete the season sweep and take his fourth win at the track and first in the fall race.

Whatever happens, it's going to be difficult for Chris Buescher, Tony Stewart, Austin Dillon or Jamie McMurray to climb out of the cellar to advance. Of those drivers, Stewart is the only former winner at Dover with three wins.

Coverage of the Citizen Soldier 400 starts at 1 p.m. Sunday on NBC Sports Network.

INDYCAR SILLY SEASON BEGINS

With news today that Josef Newgarden is departing Ed Carpenter Racing and will likely be taking Juan Pablo Montoya's seat at Team Penske next season, the silly season wheels have been set in motion in the Verizon IndyCar Series. If Newgarden does move to Team Penske, he will be the first American driver on the team since Sam Hornish Jr. drove from 2004-2007. Hornish won the Indianapolis 500 and the championship for the team in 2006.

Newgarden has proven that he can win driving for a smaller team, so what does it mean for him to move into a seat on what is THE powerhouse team in IndyCar? Time will tell, but I'd almost guarantee Newgarden will win more races next season than the three races he has won so far in his five-year career.

The 25-year-old Tennessee native is a perfect addition for Team Penske with his quick wit, well-spoken manner and popularity with fans. Can Newgarden be the first American since Hornish to win at Indy for team owner Roger Penske? I certainly wouldn't be surprised.

It will be interesting to see how Newgarden's move shakes up the rest of the paddock. Could Montoya end up back at Chip Ganassi Racing, for whom he has won a championship and the Indy 500? Or will it be a true swap with Montoya taking Newgarden's vacant seat at Ed Carpenter Racing? Will Tony Kanaan re-sign with Ganassi for a fourth season? Will this year's Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi stick with Andretti Herta Autosport or go elsewhere? Will A.J. Foyt's ABC Supply team be looking for two new drivers next season? What about young American Conor Daly?

If I had to guess, I say Montoya ends up at Ed Carpenter Racing, Kanaan re-signs with Ganassi, Rossi sticks with Andretti and Daly stays with Coyne with Sebastien Bourdais as his new teammate. As for Foyt's team, driver Takuma Sato is a favorite of engine supplier Honda and he probably brings some cash to the table, but he just hasn't performed. Sato's teammate Jack Hawksworth is almost certain to be out of the picture. Only time will tell how it will all shake out, but you can bet there will be a lot of moves.

The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be held March 12, just over five months away. In the meantime, driver James Hinchcliffe is competing on the current season of “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC. Considering IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves won the competition back in 2007, perhaps Hinchcliffe can follow suit. He's off the a good start, taking some of the top scores with partner Sharna Burgess during the first two weeks of the show.

F1 HITS MALAYSIA WITH TIGHT POINTS FIGHT

The Formula One circus heads to Sepang, Malaysia for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The series has held the event at Sepang International Circuit since 1999 when Ferrari's Eddie Irvine (remember him?) took his third and final career win.

Nico Rosberg holds a slim eight-point lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, but has never won in Malaysia. Hamilton has only one win at the track while defending race winner Sebastian Vettel has won at Malaysia four times. Other former winners in the field include Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button (who will be making his 300th start) and Kimi Raikkonen.

Coverage of the Malaysian Grand Prix starts at 1:30 a.m. Sunday on NBC Sports Network.

LOCAL RACES

Rockford Speedway will hold the 51st Annual National Short Track Championships from Friday-Sunday. Opening night gets underway at 7 p.m. Friday with Sportsman and Roadrunner features as well as a Hornet/Bandit challenge. The Big 8 Late Model, Super Late Model and Super Trucks will race starting at 5 p.m. Saturday and the Super Late Model 200, Mid-American Stock Car 50 and Super Cup Invite will be held starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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