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NASCAR Mailbox: The Contender Round, and Who is Jeffrey Earnhardt?

Well, it looks like that little ACL injury for Denny Hamlin wasn’t a factor on Sunday afternoon in Chicago. Despite his knee injury, Hamlin spun early, went onto win the MyAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, and took to the deadline room post-race where he asked the media corps, “So whose bracket did I break?”

A bold statement from a confident driver, who, coming into the Chase, many had written off as a serious contender to battle for the 2015 Sprint Cup Series championship.

Another major piece of news that came out of Chicago was where the defending champion Kevin Harvick finished the day: 42nd. After Jimmie Johnson came down the racetrack on a restart and got into Harvick, the contact caused a tire to go down and eventually ended Harvick’s chances at a good day.

Following the race, an NBC cameraman was able to zoom in on the confrontation between Harvick and Johnson in the driver motor home lot. Harvick came out of his trailer and pushed Johnson, which then fueled the argument between the two. As of now, NASCAR has said there are no penalties for the two drivers, as the occurrence took place in the infield and away from the racing and fans.

This is exactly what NASCAR wanted and needed to help drum up some more excitement in this year’s postseason. What better way to kickoff the first race of the Chase than with an angry defending champion going after a six-time champion post race? It’s what TV dreams are made of, folks. Cameras will surely be following these two closely all weekend up in New Hampshire.

Now onto this week’s questions sent in from you, our readers…

Q: Greg, After New Hampshire, and going into Dover, who do you think will be on the outside looking in on the Chase Grid to move onto the “Contender Round”? Thanks! – Nick W., Dubuque, Iowa

A: Hi Nick, this is really tough to answer at this stage in the game, considering defending champion Harvick is at the bottom of the Chase Grid standings after only the first race. But I think if you look at the power rankings, average finishes and success of the bottom portion of the Chase pack at the next two tracks (New Hampshire and Dover) you can really start to see who may not make our next 12 in the Contender Round.

Right now, my best estimate is that Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer – who all made it in on points – won’t grab a win (or finish high enough) to beat out the others at the top of the pack.

To back up for a second, I think Harvick has nothing to worry about. I believe he will make up for the lost race at Loudon and Dover. That No. 4 team is just too good not to be included in the group of 12 next round.

The fourth driver I am predicting will be left out in the cold might surprise you… Jeff Gordon. As great of a storyline it would make for a four-time champion in his final full-time season in the sport to make it into the Chase on points (done), drive into the next two rounds and possibly secure a win and then move onto the final four at Homestead and compete for the championship, it’s really just a pipedream at this point.

Despite how the No. 24 fared at New Hampshire (ninth) and Dover (10th) this year with two top-10 finishes, Gordon will miss making the next round.

Q: Hi Greg, this weekend I heard the news that Jeffrey Earnhardt will be coming up from the Xfinity Series to Cup racing next season. Is he really that good? And what’s the huge deal about him coming to Sprint Cup seems like there was a ton of news on it. Just curious. – Bill, Topeka, Kan.

A: Hi again Bill, thanks for writing in this week. Jeffrey Earnhardt is Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s nephew and grandson to the late Dale Earnhardt. He’s been racing since 2009 in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series with JD Motorsports and Viva Racing. His first Sprint Cup Series start was at Richmond earlier this year, and he’ll also be on the entry list for New Hampshire this weekend in the No. 32 for Go FAS Racing (GFR). Earnhardt is winless in all three NASCAR premier national touring series.

GFR is the same team that will field an entry for Earnhardt next season in the Sprint Cup Series as well, thus the news over the weekend. Go FAS and owner Archie St. Hilaire have signed Jeffrey Earnhardt to a multi-year deal to drive the No. 32 Ford Fusion, and brought on a major sponsor in outdoor utility/ATV manufacturer, Can-Am, who will serve as the primary sponsor for 11 races and associate sponsor for the remainder in ’16. They’ve also announced that veteran Bobby Labonte will take the wheel of the No. 32 machine for a few events next year. I’m guessing those will be the superspeedway races.

Anyway, this is a nice, positive piece of news for the end of the season where we have a new sponsor in Can-Am coming into the sport to sponsor a young rookie driver in a small, one-car operation.

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About Greg Davis

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Greg has been with Frontstretch since 2014. A life-long NASCAR follower armed with an extensive sport and digital marketing background, Greg assists the marketing team and helps to manage relationships with some of the website's sponsors. From time to time his work appears on Frontstretch, focusing on the business side of racing and how financial partnerships are affecting the sport. He and his family reside in southern Connecticut.