In front of Chase the

Martin Truex Jr.'s reg­u­lar sea­son cham­pi­onship gives him an edge in the 10-race NAS­CAR play­offs

Chicago Sun-Times - - NASCAR - Con­tent by The As­so­ci­ated Press; page de­signed by Gate­House Me­dia’s Cen­ter for News & De­sign. COM­PILED BY JENNA FRYER, AP AUTO RACING WRITER., AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOS

Martin Truex Jr. has done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to po­si­tion him­self for his first Cup ti­tle—four wins and the reg­u­lar-sea­son cham­pi­onship—heads into NAS­CAR' sp lay offs with a healthy ad­van­tage over his com­pe­ti­tion. Truex has col­lected nearly five dozen bonus points for win­ning races, win­ning stages dur­ing the race sand win­ning the reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tle (15 points ). All those points will carry with him into 10- race play­offs, which start Sun­day at Chicago land Speed­way. The bonus points in­tro­duced by NAS­CAR this sea­son could play heav­ily into True x' s march to­ward the Nov .19 cham­pi­onship fi­nal eat Homestead-Mi­amiSpeed­way. Only four driv­ers will race for the ti­tle that day, and the 16- driver play­off field will be whit­tled down through elim­i­na­tions. Truex seemed to be a slam dunk for the ti­tle last year af­ter win­ning two of the first three play­off race sin his Fur­ni­ture Row Racing en­try. But he was hit with is­sues in the sec­ond round and stun­ning ly elim­i­nated. Bonus points this year could be what keeps Truex in con­tention ." I am re­ally proud of ev­ery­body on this team for an amaz­ing sea­son so far ," Truex . "Don't ex­pect this Fur­ni­ture Row Racing team to let up. Mo­men­tum is im­por­tant as we head into the play­offs. You can't turn it off and on." But the field is stacked and features a mix of vary­ing chal­lengers. There' s seven-time cham­pion Jim­mie John­son, who would like to col­lect that eighth Cup to grab hold of the all- time record. His seven ti­tles have him tied with Hall of Fame rs Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. Kyle Lar­son has been the­most elec­tri­fy­ing driver this sea­son. He won three races and chal­lenged Truex most of the reg­u­lar sea­son for the topseed in the play­offs. He's only been in the play­offs once be­fore he was elim­i­nated in the first round so if he can ad­vance this sea­son he could wind up a con­tender in the cham­pi­onship race. T ru ex will also con tend with Joe Gibbs Racing, the sis­ter team to his Fur­ni­ture Row Racing. Gibbs last won a ti­tle two years ago with Kyle Busch, and it took most of the sea­son to col­lect the win he needed to en­sure a spot in the play­offs. Same for Denny Ham lin, but he'll have to start the play­offs with­out his crew chief. Mike Wheeler was sus­pended two races be­cause be­cause Ham­lin's Ham­lin's win­ning in­ning car at D ar­ling­ton was il­le­gal. The field this year in­cludes a few new­com­ers, in­clud­ing Ryan B laney. A Team Penske driver who qual­i­fied for the play­offs driv­ing for he Wood Broth­ers, he's giv­ing one of NAS­CAR' sold est teams its first shot at racing for the ti­tle in decades. Ro us h Fen way Racing will be rep­re­sented by Ricky St en house Jr ., who is in the play­offs for the first time. He used apair of vic­to­ries at re­stric­tor- plate tracks to get into the play­offs, but he knows his pro­gram may not be ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing across the en­tire 10-race play­off sched­ule. Ste­wart-Haas Racing is rep­re­sented by for­mer cham­pi­ons Kevin Harvi ck, win­ner of the first elim­i­na­tion- for­mat play­offs, and Day­tona 500 win­ner Kurt Busch. But Busch has been me­diocre all sea­son, Har­vick hasn’t matched well against Truex and Lar­son, and the team could find it­self shut out of the play­offs ear­lier than ex­pected this sea­son.

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