Chicago street course offers a tricky opportunity for winless NASCAR Cup Series drivers


CHICAGO — Alex Bowman sees a Chicago street course full of possibilities. He also sees a major potential problem.

“All the winners behind us in points make my life harder for sure,” Bowman said Saturday. “So just trying to do the best we can to get in victory lane to avoid those issues.”

That’s the situation for a group of NASCAR Cup Series contenders fighting for five remaining spots in the playoffs after Joey Logano became this season’s 11th different winner last weekend in Tennessee.

Martin Truex Jr., Ty Gibbs, Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher and Bowman occupy the last five playoff spots on points at the moment. Truex is in a strong position with seven races left in the regular season, but a win for a driver below Bowman in the standings could shake up the playoff field once again.

Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe and two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch are among seven drivers below the cutline who previously participated in the Cup Series playoffs.

“It’d be nice to have a win. I feel like we should have a win,” said the 44-year-old Truex, who plans to retire from full-time racing at the end of the season. “We’ve had a few heartbreakers, so just keep digging and take it week by week.”

Buescher feels Truex’s pain. Buescher lost to Kyle Larson at Kansas in May in the closest finish in Cup Series history. Then he was wrecked by Tyler Reddick at Darlington, taking him out of contention.

“I feel like we’re very, very close to where we need to be to not have to have a points conversation whatsoever,” Buescher said.

The second edition of the downtown Chicago street race on Sunday offers another possibility for 18 winless Cup Series drivers who are eligible for the playoffs. But there is risk everywhere.

The 12-turn, 2.2-mile course is narrow and bumpy in spots, and there is little room for error. A crash could open the door for a driver in the right spot at the right time, but it also could collect multiple cars and hurt positioning when it comes to accumulating points.

“I’m not worried about Chicago. … Everybody here knows that I’m not the best at road course racing,” Wallace said, “so Chicago is just one of those, let’s survive, move on.”

The 21-year-old Hocevar was 13th in qualifying as the rookie looks to move on after a difficult week.

He was fined $50,000 and docked 25 driver points for spinning out Harrison Burton under caution during last weekend’s Ally 400 at Nashville Speedway. NASCAR announced the penalty on Tuesday.

Asked if he agreed with NASCAR’s decision, Hocevar responded: “I mean, I respect their decision. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree.”

Hocevar, who drives the Spire Motorsports No. 77, hit Burton from behind, sending him sideways. Burton’s No. 21 car ended up against the wall.

Reigning Cup champion Ryan Blaney said he agreed with the punishment for Hocevar.

“That’s the only way you’ll get that stuff to stop,” Blaney said Saturday. You have to make them pay a lot of money, fine them from points, things like that. If it’s bad enough, make them sit out. You know, that’s just stuff that you learn as a young driver. Don’t do. There are a lot of no-nos, and that’s one of them.

Shane van Gisbergen is the BETMGM Sportsbook favorite to win Sunday. Van Gisbergen won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. … Larson is on the pole. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is going for his fourth win of the season in his 350th career Cup Series start.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing



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