NASCAR’s version of March Madness creating buzz

Fernley 95A Speedway is back in action tonight with the next to last points race of the 2014 season.

IMCA Modified, Pro Stock, Hobby Stock, Pure Stock, and Super Stock 4 divisions are all on tonight’s race card. Spectator gates open at 3 p.m. with racing at 6.


All three NASCAR touring divisions are in action as well, with the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup series at New Hampshire, and the Nationwide series at Kentucky. The new Chase format is generating all the buzz NASCAR had hoped for, with a bracket similar to March Madness fans can follow. Tomorrow’s Cup race is the second of the Challenger Round, and the 16 Chase contenders are desperately fighting for the 12 transfer spots to the Contender round of three races. Brad Keselowski has locked himself in to the next round with his win at Chicagoland, and Jeff Gordon’s third-place finish puts him second in points. Among the Chase teams, the Penske and Gibbs organizations appear to have the best momentum so far, but Gordon and his Hendrick teammates can never be counted out. The four drivers on the bubble aren’t out of it yet, but Ryan Newman, A.J. Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola will need really strong finishes Sunday to stay alive.


New Hampshire may see a non-Chaser in victory lane, though. There hasn’t been a repeat winner at Loudon in the last 13 races. That’s a tie with Texas for the longest streak of different winners in the Cup series. Nine of the 16 Chase drivers are among those 13 winners. Based on Kyle Larson’s performance at Chicagoland, I would give him the highest probability among the non-Chasers to extend that streak. He starts 10th, but he and everybody else will have their work cut out for them to beat Brad Keselowski. The Penske Ford driver is on a tear, winning the last two races and qualifying on the pole for Sunday’s 300 miler, shattering the old track record. At this point it looks like a safe bet for Keselowski to be one of the drivers in the final round at Homestead in November.


Formula 1 is racing at Singapore this weekend, the only night race on the schedule. The sanctioning body has instituted a new rule for the remainder of the season, limiting the communication allowed between the teams and their drivers. In an interview, points leader Nico Rosberg expressed his approval of the new regulation, stating it puts the racing back in the hands of the drivers. Without information on closing rates of other cars, fuel consumption and flow, and the use of the electronic boost system coming from race engineers, the drivers must make more decisions based on their own judgment. The teams will still be able to call pit stops and issue advisories on technical matters like engine performance, but no more of the engineers treating the drivers like puppets.


The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series is at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas this weekend. This weekend is the second race of the series Countdown to the Championship, a six-round playoff similar to NASCAR’s Chase format. The amazing John Force leads the Funny Car division, and at age 65 is going for his 17th championship. He’s looking to break his own 2013 record of being the oldest champion in NHRA history. His daughter Courtney and teammate Robert Hight are also in contention for the Funny Car title. Force’s daughter Brittany has made the final 10 in the Top Fuel division, which is led by Doug Kalitta going into the Texas round. Tony Schumacher, Steve Torrence, and Antron Brown are only four points apart for second. And Jason Line holds the Pro Stock lead, followed by Erica Enders-Stevens, Jeg Coughlin and the ageless Allen Johnson. It looks to be an exciting finish to the season.


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