And then there were 12.
The first round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship is in the history books, and the record will show that title quest is over for Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, and Chris Buescher. Those drivers didn’t make the cut to advance to the Round of 12, which kicks off in Charlotte tonight, Hurricane Matthew permitting.
Martin Truex Jr. has Chase momentum coming off a win last weekend at Dover. It was his fourth win of the season and second Chase victory. Truex knows how to win at Charlotte, having visited victory lane earlier this year in the Coca-Cola 600. Other Chase drivers who have won at Charlotte include Jimmie Johnson with seven wins (three of them in Chase races), Kevin Harvick with three, Matt Kenseth with two, and one apiece for Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch. There hasn’t been a repeat winner at Charlotte since October of 2011. Harvick will start tonight’s race with his first pole position at Charlotte, demonstrating that he’s still very much in the hunt. Young Alex Bowman will have the best start of his career, taking the green alongside Harvick in the No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Chevy. More drivers (17) have won at Charlotte from a second-place start than from any other starting position.
Heavy rains on Friday caused all track activities at Charlotte to be canceled, and rain is expected to continue through this morning but at this point the Sprint Cup race is still scheduled tonight. The race broadcast will begin at 4 p.m. The Xfinity race has been postponed until Sunday morning at 8 a.m. The starting order will be set by practice times, with Kyle Larson on the pole. It’s the final race of the Chase Round of 12, with four drivers to be eliminated. Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler are locked into the Round of Eight by virtue of wins. Ty Dillon, Erik Jones, Ryan Sieg, and Brandon Jones are currently on the outside looking in. Jones, who had won four races during the regular season, will start alongside Larson on the front row with a good shot to advance either with a win or on points.
In contrast to Truex’s excellent Sunday at Dover, Lewis Hamilton suffered a huge setback in the battle for the Formula One driving title. Leading by more than 22 seconds with 16 laps to go in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, Hamilton’s engine erupted in smoke and flames. The failure put him out of the race and out of the points as teammate Nico Rosberg finished third behind the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen after first-lap contact dropped him well back in the field. Analysis of Hamilton’s engine revealed a crankshaft bearing failure was the cause of the engine eruption. As a result, all teams running Mercedes powerplants (Williams, Force India, and Manor) will run at Japan this weekend with the same engines they had in Malaysia rather than getting fresh “new spec” power units.
With five races remaining in the season, Rosberg has 23 points in hand over Hamilton, who’s 61 points ahead of third place Ricciardo. If Hamilton is to win his fourth driving title, it’s imperative he do well this weekend at the Suzuka circuit. Rosberg, going for his first championship, will try to consolidate his advantage this weekend and extend his points lead. Mercedes had the opportunity to clinch the constructor’s title at Sepang, but Hamilton’s DNF there will postpone that milestone until Sunday, or possibly even later in the season.