By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
The three-race round of 16 of the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup concludes with next week’s race at Dover International Speedway. This means the final four drivers in the Chase Grid following next Sunday’s race will be eliminated from Championship contention. The bottom four after New Hampshire are: Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher.
For Buescher, Dover is basically a must-win situation as he stands a daunting 30-points behind the 12th-place driver in the Grid — Kyle Larson.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much our situation,” Buescher said after Sunday’s race. “Dover is a really good race track. I like that place a lot. We had a good finish for us there earlier this season, so we’ll go there and see what we can do to get a win and try to move on to the second round of the Chase.”
Despite shocking the world to make the Chase after a weather-shortened race at Pocono earlier this season, Buescher was visibly upset after New Hampshire. Buescher just wants to have more speed and consistency with his Front Row Motorsports team heading forward.
“We’re just trying to get speed out of all of our cars. It was a tough day,” Buescher admitted. “We tried really hard with our Love’s Fusion. We put a lot of effort into it and we’ll just keep digging and trying to get it better. We just have to keep plugging along.”
Buescher continued, “We’re trying to get everything better. It’s about improving our cars at Front Row Motorsports and getting them to where we can consistently run better. We’ve had a handful of really bright spots this year and we just have to be a little more consistent with those. How those will come we don’t know yet. If we had the answer, we would already be ahead of that.”
Stewart refused to talk after another disappointing run in the first round of the Chase. After Chicago, Stewart said his team had to be better if they expected to move on to the round of 12. Instead of performing better in New Hampshire, Stewart had one of his more forgettable runs in recent memory.
Stewart started 22nd and finished 23rd one lap down. At no point in the 300 laps on Sunday did Stewart appear to be a contender for the race win, or even a decent finish. Stewart now sits 11 points behind the cutoff.
Austin Dillon had a trying week as he crashed in practice, and was mired deep in the field to start the race at New Hampshire. But after finishing 16th and staying within five points of the cutoff for the round of 12, Dillon is the only driver of these bottom four who actually feels their day in New Hampshire was a positive.
“Truthfully, that was a heck of a fight and we are only five points out going into Dover and we struggled all week long,” said an optimistic Dillon. “We fought hard. I never gave in, never gave up, our team never gave up. They did a heck of a pit stop there to put us in a lucky dog position, just to gain us some more points. A bunch of them guys are just right there. Now we go to Dover and we’ve given ourselves a shot. We just got to go run good there; got something new that we think is going to help us there. I’m looking forward to it. Just a whale of a fight by the guys.”
Dillon continued by saying, “It sucks we didn’t have a car all day capable of doing anything, but we stayed focused and that means more to me than anything because at times this year we haven’t. I tried to let God work today and let things play out. It wasn’t our day, but we made the best out of our day, we really did.”
McMurray is the same distance behind Larson for the final transfer spot — five points — but you have to imagine McMurray isn’t as happy about his day as Dillon was about his.
McMurray was fast all week long in New Hampshire and he qualified seventh for Sunday’s race. In the race, McMurray looked like a solid top-10 car all day long, until a free fall in the final 15 laps. McMurray rolled the dice and stayed out on old tires, while a large portion of the field got fresh rubber. McMurray would restart inside the top-five, but a caution at lap 292 tightened the field back up for one final restart and McMurray was shuffled to 19th when the checkered flag waved at lap 300.
McMurray was of course ousted in the first round of the Chase last season after a dramatic battle at Dover with Dale Earnhardt Jr. McMurray will look to dig deep and work his way back into Chase contention next weekend.
Here are the Chase Grid Standings in the Round of 16
(one race remaining before four drivers are cut)
- Martin Truex Jr. *
- Kevin Harvick *
- Brad Keselowski, +35 points
- Kyle Busch, +33 points
- Matt Kenseth, +26 points
- Joey Logano, +21 points
- Denny Hamlin, +19 points
- Jimmie Johnson, +18 points
- Chase Elliott, +16 points
- Carl Edwards, +16 points
- Kurt Busch, +15 points
- Kyle Larson, +5 points
— Chase Cutoff Line —
- Jamie McMurray, -5 points
- Austin Dillon, -5 points
- Tony Stewart, -11 points
- Chris Buescher, -30 points
* indicates a driver who has already clinched advancement to the next round by way of winning a race.