The Chase tightens with two races left
Brooklyn — The drama continues to grow with each and every NASCAR Sprint Cup race heading into the cut-off point for The Chase which is quickly approaching.
Kyle Larson, who was sitting on the outside looking in, punched his ticket by winning the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
Drivers with at least one win automatically earn a spot in The Chase’s 16-car field with a 30th or better finish in the points.
Twelve drivers had already owned a win or more heading into the race at MIS and now there’s 13 with Larson punching his ticket with his first career win, overtaking race leader, 20-year-old rookie Chase Elliott on the final restart with nine laps left.
The rest of the 16-car field will be made up by points and Elliott is still in search for that elusive win, sitting 14th place with a 27-point lead over Ryan Newman who is now on the outside in 17th place.
That’s how quickly things change with The Chase picture. Larson was in solid position before losing 59 points the previous two races, finishing 29th on the road course at Watkins Glen and 24th at Bristol.
Newman held the 16th spot before Larson’s win and his 17th place finish Sunday has him on the outside looking in.
Now, Austin Dillon and Larson’s Chip Ganassi teammate, Jamie McMurray hold the final two spots with races held at Darlington (Sept. 4) and at Richmond (Sept. 10) before The Chase starts Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.
The runner-up spot left Elliott frustrated. He finished second to Joey Logano in the June race at MIS with Larson finishing third.
“For sure I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” said Elliott when asked if he felt frustrated. “If I wasn’t, that would mean I didn’t care. So, you know, for me, just have to try to take the positives out of it.”
Now, there’s little room for error for Elliott, Dillon and McMurray if they hope to make The Chase.
The same can be said for Chris Buescher who has a win at Pocono earlier this month. But Buescher's 35th-place finish at MIS on Sunday drops him to 30th in points, barely holding on with just a 7-point lead on David Ragan.
Buescher, a 23-year-old rookie, suffered from engine problems early Sunday, leading to his rough afternoon.
“I know it isn’t fun opening a hood of a race car that is as hot as it is and trying to work on it,” said Buescher, a development driver for Roush/Fenway Racing who competes in the No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford for Front Row Motorsports. “Kudos to my guys for keeping their heads down and working at it and getting it fixed. Usually when you have engine trouble you are along for the ride. It ended up being something a little more simple than I guess we originally figured. We got back up and running and made some laps, and made a really terrible day into just an okay day.
“We will have to get it back at the shop and tear it down and take a look at it — and diagnose from there to see if it was a freak accident or something we need to look at going forward.”
JGR drivers out of mix at end
In a surprising turn of events, there were no Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in contention during the final laps.
Kyle Busch is the defending series champion who has won four times this season while his teammates Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth each have a pair of wins.
Edwards finished seventh, Hamlin ninth, Kenseth 13th and Busch was 19th after spinning early in the race.
“We really struggled badly most of the day,” Edwards said. “Dave (crew chief Rogers) did a great job there at the end. Just a little disappointed. I thought we would have been a lot better than that. We’ll just have to regroup, figure it out and talk to our teammates. We’ll figure it out.”
Said Hamlin: “We just struggled with speed. The car was tight then it was loose, but really just lacked the speed that the leaders had for the most part. We struggled on restarts a little bit too on the bottom lane.”
Roush team continues to struggle
Roush/Fenway Racing drivers failed to collect a top-10 finish Sunday with Greg Biffle coming in 11th in his No. 16 Roush Performance Ford.
Trevor Bayne finished 24th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 27th.
Bayne is now 17th in points, Stenhouse is 20th and Biffle is 21st.
Roush drivers have won 13 races at MIS, but not since Biffle reached Victory Lane in June of 2013.