If you’re bored with the fact that there’s no NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this weekend, consider this little nugget: The 2016 Cup season will end with 14 consecutive weeks of racing. That means the next off-weekend is Thanksgiving. Gulp. But while you wait for the next race at Bristol Motor Speedway on the night of Aug. 20, here are the seven biggest NASCAR questions that will be answered between now and the end of the season.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesMatt Sullivan
Who makes the Chase?
Eleven drivers have won races and are in the top 30 in points; Chris Buescher has a victory but is just outside the top 30 and he needs to be 30th or better to make the Chase. But it looks like at least two or three winless drivers will make it in. Best bets right now are Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon, but there could be movement still.
Getty ImagesBlaine Ohigashi
When does Dale Earnhardt Jr. return?
We know three things for sure: 1. Jeff Gordon is scheduled to replace Earnhardt again at Bristol next weekend. 2. Earnhardt said he absolutely wants to race again. 3. Earnhardt can't race until he gets medical clearance. Any other speculation at this point is just that -- speculation. He'll be ready when he's ready and not a minute before.
Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
Who changes teams?
There aren't many big-name drivers in play for 2017, but there are a few. The key seems to be Richard Childress Racing, where neither driver Ryan Newman nor the team have announced 2017 plans and the team owner has been looking for ways to get grandson Ty Dillon a full-time ride for '17. Expect a few crew chief changes, too, before the end of the year.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesBob Leverone
How will Tony Stewartâs career end?
Ten weeks ago, the three-time Cup champion looked like his final season would be a dismal one in terms of on-track results. But a victory in Sonoma turned Stewartâs season around 180 degrees, to the point where he has five top fives in his last eight races. He could mount a miracle title run like the one he had in 2011.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
Can anyone stop Joe Gibbs Racing?
As a team, JGR has won 10 of the 22 races this season, with all four of its drivers posting at least two victories so far. If some other team is going to win the championship this year, they need to find some speed to knock off the Toyota armada soon. As in very, very soon.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesSean Gardner
Who wins the championship?
The winner-take-all format in the Chase means that four drivers will be tied in points going into the final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Whoever finishes best of those four is the new Cup champion. Hard to imagine a final four that doesnât include at least one car each from JGR, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing.
Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
Who replaces Sprint?
As soon as the checkered flag falls at Homestead, pretty much any and all references to title sponsor Sprint will vanish immediately. But who replaces Sprint? A Sports Business Journal report from earlier this month listed grocery chain Kroger, Yum! Brands, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Hisense as "still in the hunt." We'll see how it shakes out in what will be a hugely significant decision.