Fuel & Tires: Last race before Chase for the Sprint Cup

 

This weekend marks the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup gets underway to crown the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. The Chase will work like this:

—Sixteen drivers will have three races (Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover) to try and advance to a round of twelve drivers.

—Those twelve drivers will have three races (Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega) to try and advance to a round of eight drivers. Do you see a pattern here?

—Those eight drivers will have three races (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix) to try and advance to a round of four drivers.

—Those four drivers will compete for the championship at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20.

A win in any of the first nine Chase races will automatically advance the driver to the next round, so it's imperative that the drivers in the Chase do everything they can to stay out of trouble and go for the win.

Heading into Saturday's race at Richmond International Speedway, the Chase grid looks like this:

—Brad Keselowski (four wins)

—Kyle Busch (four wins)

—Kevin Harvick (two wins)

—Carl Edwards (two wins)

—Denny Hamlin (two wins)

—Martin Truex Jr. (two wins)

—Matt Kenseth (two wins)

—Jimmie Johnson (two wins)

—Joey Logano (one win)

—Kurt Busch (one win)

—Kyle Larson (one win)

—Tony Stewart (one win)

—Chris Buescher (one win)

Chase Elliot, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray are within the top sixteen, but would be in the Chase purely on points as all are winless this season. It depends on what happens Saturday night as to who will make the final three spots of the Chase grid. If a winless driver can come home victorious, they will automatically be in the Chase (assuming they are within the top 30 in points), followed by the closest two drivers in points. That alone will make it a race worth watching.

Coverage of the Federated Auto Parts 400 starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Network.

POWER'S TITLE HOPES TAKE HIT

Scott Dixon dominated Sunday's Grand Prix at The Glen for his second win of the season while Will Power's title chances took a hit. Power crashed out of the race after clashing with Charlie Kimball, so Power's Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud left Watkins Glen with a 43-point advantage heading into next weekend's Verizon IndyCar Series season finale.

Josef Newgarden continued to impress by finishing second while Helio Castroneves came home third. Even more surprising was the crowd at the track, considering the race was announced in May after the proposed Boston Grand Prix was cancelled. Furthermore, it was announced a couple of weeks ago that the track had signed a two-year deal with the series, which will keep IndyCar there through at least 2018.

The series is off this weekend, but will be back in action for the aforementioned season finale race at Sonoma Raceway on September 18. I'll have a preview of that race next week with my pick of who will win the championship.

ROSBERG CLOSES GAP ON HAMILTON

Lewis Hamilton was in the catbird seat prior to Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, winning the pole for the race ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Unfortunately for Hamilton, a poor start relegated him to sixth place by the first corner.

Rosberg took the win while Hamilton fought back to finish second and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel took third. Rosberg's win means he's now two points behind Hamilton with seven races remaining. Unless these two take each other out of a race again, a la the Spanish Grand Prix, it will certainly be a fight to the end.

In a bit of a surprise, Jenson Button announced he will not drive in 2017, but will retain a position within the McLaren-Honda team. Button insisted this was not a retirement, but more of a break. Button came to Formula One in 2000 when he joined the BMW Williams Team. He has also driven for Renault, BAR Honda and Brawn GP, for whom he won the 2009 championship.

The series is off this weekend, but will hold the Singapore Grand Prix on September 18.

LOCAL RACES

Madison International Speedway will hold its Eve of Destruction with monster trucks, 6shooters, drag races, drifting, truck tug-of-war, burnout contest, school bus destruction, roll over contest, double steel wall crash and fireworks. The last Friday night of action for the season at the speedway gets underway at 7:30 p.m.

Rockford Speedway will hold its Whelen Night of Champions with Late Model, Sportsman, Short Tracker and Roadrunner features as well as an outhouse race starting at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Jefferson Speedway will hold its Season Championships plus Legends and Bandelero features starting at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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