When the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup was announced, many assumed the “win and you’re in” rules for both getting into the Chase and advancing to future rounds of the Chase via a race win meant that points weren’t all that important any more.
But Ryan Newman is proving that points still matter. Newman, in his first year driving the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, has yet to win a race this year, but he heads into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway second in the Chase standings, with three races remaining.
Newman’s regular-season performance was mediocre by his career standards, but he accumulated enough points to qualify for the Chase. He started the Chase 13th of 16 drivers, but has survived the first two elimination rounds and seems to be peaking in performance at the right time. After starting the Chase with finishes of 15th at Chicagoland and 18th at New Hampshire, he’s reeled off five strong finishes. He started with an eighth-place run at Dover, followed by a sixth at Kansas, a seventh at Charlotte, fifth at Talladega and third at Martinsville.
Newman said that while he would like to win races, consistency has worked so far.
“We have been one of the most consistent teams out there when it comes to the Chase,” he said. “For the longest time we were a seventh- to 11th-place car. Over the second half of the season, we have made improvements that have allowed us to be championship contenders.”
The next step, he said, is to win a race. “That’s what we need to do to improve,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
Harvick to make 500th Cup start: Kevin Harvick will make his 500th career Sprint Cup start this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, and would like to celebrate that milestone with a victory. After a disappointing 33rd-place finish at Martinsville Speedway, he likely will need a win either at Texas or at Phoenix International Raceway the next week to be able to survive the eliminator round of the Chase and run for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick has never won a Cup race at Texas, but he’s won there five times in the Nationwide Series and once in the Camping World Truck Series.
Keselowski has six, needs another: Brad Keselowski, who leads the Sprint Cup Series in race victories this season with six, needs another one to make it to the final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. After a drive-train failure at Martinsville left him seventh in the standings and 31 points out of the lead, he needs a win either at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend or at Phoenix International Raceway next week to advance to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16, where the four drivers who survive the Eliminator Round will run for the championship.
Keselowski made it to the eliminator round with a win at Talladega Superspeedway, where he won twice before in his Cup career, but he’s never won at either Texas or Phoenix in 22 combined starts at those tracks. He does have a second-place finish at Texas, in 2012, and a third at Phoenix earlier this year.
“Yeah, it’s still tough to do,” Keselowski said of getting the win he needs to advance. “It’s not like we’re just going to go and guarantee a win at Texas and Phoenix, but it’s also not impossible. We’ve got the team … to pull it off.”
Nationwide in action: After being idle for two weekends, the Nationwide Series cranks back up this weekend with the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Points leader Chase Elliott, who got his first series victory at Texas earlier this year, is hoping to continue his quest for a championship, one that would make him the youngest driver to ever win a major NASCAR championship and the first driver to win a title for his JR Motorsports team.
But as he has throughout his career, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott is taking a low-key approach to the final three races of the season.
“I just try to keep it as simple as possible and keep it as stress free as you can and take it a week at a time,” Elliott said in a track release. “Hopefully we’re still in the hunt when it counts, and we can battle to the end.”
Elliott’s closest challenger in the championship battle is his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who enters the weekend 42 points back.
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