A bit of controversy hangs over the start of NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup, the 10-race championship playoff that opens Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, with four wins apiece in the Sprint Cup Series so far this season, lead the 12 drivers in the Chase with 2,012 points each. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon follows with 2,009.
Harvick won last week’s race in Richmond, Va., after his Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard spun out late in the race to bring out a caution flag. Harvick then beat Gordon off pit road and held off Gordon for the victory.
Gordon later said the timing of Menard’s spinout was “a little fishy,” and NASCAR President Mike Helton said the sanctioning body would look into it.
But team owner Richard Childress said in a statement Friday “there were no team orders” given to Menard to spin to help Harvick's cause and that Menard “wouldn’t have spun out on purpose even if he had been asked.”
Jimmie Johnson, aiming for a record sixth consecutive title, also is back in the Chase along with 2004 champion Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch’s older brother.
Johnson and Kurt Busch have had a running feud in recent weeks, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- another Chase contender and teammate of Johnson's at Hendrick Motorsports-- was asked Friday if he was curious about how the Johnson-Busch spat might play out this weekend.
“It bores the [expletive] out of me, to be honest,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve got my own damn problems to worry about.”
The Izod IndyCar Series, meanwhile, is racing Sunday for the final time at the Twin Ring Motegi track in Japan, where Danica Patrick won her only IndyCar event in 2008. Patrick is moving to NASCAR stock-car racing next year.
With three races left in the season, the IndyCar championship is coming down to a battle between current point leader Dario Franchitti, who is shooting for his third consecutive championship and fourth overall, and Team Penske’s Will Power, who is only five points behind Franchitti and seeking his first title.
In drag racing, the six-race title playoff in the National Hot Rod Assn.’s Full Throttle Series opens this weekend with the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals in Charlotte, N.C.
Del Worsham currently leads the NHRA’s top-fuel class by 30 points over Antron Brown, and Mike Neff leads the funny car division by 30 points over Jack Beckman. The series finale is Nov. 10-13 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
And on Saturday night, late-model stock cars make their last appearance of the season as part of a multi-race lineup at the half-mile Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. Brandon Davis of Huntington Beach currently leads the point standings in that series.
The Formula One series is off this weekend ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sept. 25.
Photo: NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, left, and Jeff Gordon take in the sights of Chicago ahead of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway that opens NASCAR's Chase title playoff. Credit: David Banks/Getty Images