Johnson City Press Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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Sports Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

Points still a key in winning NASCAR championship

July 29th, 2014 11:12 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Points still a key in winning NASCAR championship

It seems the biggest misconception race fans have about NASCAR’s new championship system is that points don’t matter.

They understand if a driver wins a race he should qualify for the championship playoffs. However, winning a race isn’t a guarantee a driver will get in.

For example, Kurt Busch won at Martinsville and is 25th in points. Although it’s unlikely, he could fall out of the top 30 and thus miss the Chase.

There are 16 spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup field before eliminations will whittle down the list of contenders. As it currently stands, 11 drivers have won at least one race, leaving open five spots for the Chase will be based on points.

The drivers who would currently be eligible for the Chase are: Matt Kenseth (fourth in points), Ryan Newman (seventh), Clint Bowyer (10th),  Kyle Larson (12th) and Austin Dillon (13th). Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard would be the first drivers to miss it, while Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle headline the list of other notables on the outside looking in.

Just based on past history, there is a good possibility another guaranteed spot or two could be gone by the cut-off race at Richmond rolls around. 

Kenseth is the defending race champion at the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol, while Marcos Ambrose is a two-time winner on the Watkins Glen road course. 

Besides their spirited battle for Rookie of the Year, Larson and Dillon could be going head-to-head for that final Chase spot.

The good news for Bristol and some of the other tracks heading into the Chase, the format creates a lot of scenarios where drivers might be willing to take chances they wouldn’t have necessarily taken a year or two ago.

Once the Chase begins, points still matter, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The teams now begin that stretch run to the Chase with a visit to the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track at Pocono.

Fresh off his fifth Brickyard 400 victory, Jeff Gordon will be among the favorites at Pocono. Also among the favorites are Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won at Pocono last month, and Brad Keselowski who had the dominant car for most of that race.

Besides the aforementioned guys yet to win this season, another couple of drivers who could make their way into the playoffs are Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray. Even if they don’t win, they could get on a roll and pick up a bunch of points and get in that way. While a greater emphasis than ever before is on winning, it just shows that points still matter.

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Johnson City driver Tim Maupin added to his early-season showing with a runner-up finish in the Crate Late Model feature at Volunteer Speedway last Saturday night. 

Jason Whelsan of Maryville jumped out front early in the 30-lap race and led flag-to-flag. Maupin maintained his second spot ahead of Ricky Moore of Greeneville and defending track champion Tim Byrd of Jonesborough. 

In a 40-lap feature for the Steel Head Late Model class, Trevor Sise took advantage of a broken axle on Cory Hedgecock’s car with eight laps to go and went on to win his first ever race at Volunteer Speedway. 

Jason Trammell finished second, followed by Jamie Perry, Piney Flats driver Jensen Ford and Welshan.

Gary Blanken, who was the Volunteer Speedway Street Stock champion back in 1991, won the Modified Hobby feature after problems for early leaders Kurt Owens and Jamie Whitt. Jonesborough driver Jon Cook finished fourth.

There is no racing scheduled at Volunteer this week with a special $4,000-to-win race for the Steel Head Late Models scheduled for Friday, August 8.

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Racing is scheduled to return to Kingsport Speedway this Friday night after a two-week hiatus.

There are twin 60-lap features for the Late Model Stock division highlighting the six-class program. Races for the Street Stock, Pure 4, Rookie Pure 4, Mod 4 and Legends cars are also scheduled.

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Bristol Motor Speedway announced Tuesday that country music star Dierks Bentley will perform a post-race concert on Wednedsay, Aug. 20 following a doubleheader for the NASCAR Whelen Modified and Camping World Truck Series.

The Bush’s Beans 150 for the Modified Series is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. with the UNOH 200 for the Truck Series slated for 8 p.m. The Bentley concert will follow the race.

This past weekend, Bristol Dragway hosted the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, Eastern Conference finals for ages 8-18.

A pair of Bristol Dragway regulars made a big impression with Devin Kiser of Corryton winning the 13-year-old title over Ohio racer Nicholas Altenbach, and Chelsea Brown of Renick, West Virginia, winning the 10-year-old division. 

Kaden Haynes of Mt. Carmel made it to the 11-year-old final round before losing to Texas racer Arabella Maitland.

The DER Bracket Series returns to Bristol Dragway this weekend with a test-and-tune on Friday and racing on Saturday and Sunday.

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Chelsea Taylor of Elizabethton won the Women’s 85cc division at the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series at I-81 Raceway Park last Saturday night.

Riley Horton of Jonesborough was the runner-up in the women’s race. 

Parker Hughes of Elizabethton won in the 85cc Beginner 9-15 class and Chris Furches of Jonesborough outran Wyatt Luther of Erwin to claim the ATV Youth title.

Bakersville, North Carolina riders continued to pile up wins on the four-wheelers. The winners included Eric Hollifield (ATV Expert), Ryan Hoyle (ATV Intermediate) and Jeremy Buchanan, who beat Nate Martin of Jonesborough for the ATV Novice title.

Will Andrews of Hampton posted a pair of runner-up finishes in the 65cc 10-11 class and the 65cc Unlimited 7-11 division.

The series will return to Appalachian Fairgrounds this Saturday night.

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