As the 2016 NASCAR regular season hits the final stretch, eyes turn towards who'll be racing for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship come November. We're hoping back on the Road to Richmond to paint the complete Chase picture, examining each driver as they clinch their spot in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski was the first driver to clinch his spot in the 2016 Chase following his July win at Kentucky.
2016 Rearview
After winning just one race all of last season, Brad's 2016 campaign might be one of the best of his career. With four wins through 20 races, the No. 2 driver is averaging a top-10 finish every time he rolls out onto the track - a testament to his ability considering the number of driver's who've fallen prey to wrecks this season. He's been a spokesman for the new downforce package since it's roll out last season in Darlington, and with the success he's had it's easy to see why.

2015 Chase
Keselowski was half of the Penske equation that dominated most of the 2015 Chase, but a wreck in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 dampened his chances to advance past the round of eight. But that still didn't stop him from leaving his mark on the Championship race in Homestead, leading a race-high 86 laps. 

Cup Career at Richmond
One Win (2014 Federared Auto Parts 400)  |  Five Top-10's  |  15.9 Avg. Finish
Kyle Busch Back at it again

And he's back at it again. It's hard to forget Kyle's scorching 2015 campaign, the one that saw him return from an 11-race absence to pick up five wins and a Sprint Cup Championship. But what he's done through the first 20 races this season might be even more impressive, punctuated by a dominating weekend at the Brickyard - two poles awards, two trips to Gatorade Victory Lane. The sweep means the Joe Gibbs driver has taken the last four NASCAR races at Indy. “It’s so cool because it hasn’t been done before," Busch said of the streak. "I’ve tried and been successful at being able to do a lot of things that others haven’t been able to do before. It helps you and when it helps you win on Sunday, that’s what makes everything so worthwhile on those Saturday races."

Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart

"I know you want to keep (your last year) on the low down, but I'm sorry buddy - we're in your home state," Jeff Gordon said to fellow NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart at the driver's meeting. "As we've gotten to know each other as friends and competitors over the years, I know what (Indianapolis) means to you...and I think that this is a year not about saying goodbye, but a year about celebrating what you've done." On a weekend where Kyle Busch dominated the competition, these two might've stolen the show. With Gordon filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 88 and Tony Stewart returning to his hometown track in his final season, Sunday's race was very important to two of NASCAR's biggest stars. The future Hall of Famers also hooked up for a final lap run after the checkered flag."I knew when we got the checkered you didn't want to come in just yet," Stewart said. "I wanted to run one more lap and Jeff was around us. I couldn't think of a better guy to share that moment with."

Stewart Haas

As the saying goes, there's no time like the present. Turns out the folks over at Setwart-Haas have taken that heart with their decision to field an XFINITY Series team beginning in 2017. “An XFINITY Series team has always been something we would consider when the time was right, and that time is now,” said Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation. “Staying successful in this sport means staying ahead of the curve, and having an XFINITY Series team provides a positive impact with our race team.” Cheers guys! And we're looking forward to watching them whip around the Action Track in next year's ToyotaCare 250 and Virginia529 College Savings 250.

Matt Kenseth Pocono

Mid-Summer Awakening
After a "mini-funk" that saw Joe Gibbs Racing go over two months without sending a driver to Victory Lane, they've now done so in back-to-back weeks for the fourth time this season. We're not necessarily saying history repeats itself, but it's hard not to consider this the beginning of something big for Coach's squad. Consider just a year ago when a JGR driver took home the checkered flag 10 times in a 13-race stretch spanning from late June to September. The upcoming Pennsylvania 400 in Pocono was one of those races, dominated by JGR's Matt Kenseth.
Tony Stewart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Alright, alright. We dragged our feet a little bit to embrace this whole Pokemon Go thing, but we've been hooked since checking out our very own PokeStop. While out catching 'em all, it was hard not to notice a few similarities to some guys we're a little more familiar with... 

Carl Edwards - Machoke

It's only logical that NASCAR's preeminent gym rat would draw comparisons to the bodybuilding Pokemon Machoke. Whether he's one-upping Jay Glaser in the gym or speaking for the "Eat Smart, Move More" campaign, a healthy lifestyle has always been important for Edwards. We're not sure who'd win between these two in an arm wrestling competition, but smart money is on Carl when it comes to back flips.

Joey Logano - Jolteon

Starting out as a common Eevee, the right trainer - or team - can quickly evolve this Pokemon into the hardcore Jolteon; one guy you don't want to mess with, if you can help it. Similarly, Joey Logano's work with Team Penske makes him a formidable opponent on the track. While only capturing one (points-eligible) W this year, last year's Chase run was nothing short of intimidating. Bottom line: don't underestimate these two.

Tony Stewart - Charizard

You know what they say, where there's "Smoke" there's fire - so it's easy to see the parallels between Tony Stewart and the fire-breathing Charizard. The future NASCAR Hall of Famer is a legend on and off the track, and well-known for his fiery personality and driving style.

Chase Elliott - Squirtle

One of the most popular rookie drivers, meet one of the most popular "rookie" Pokemon. Aside from Pikachu (don't worry, we'll get to him), Squirtle is a top choice for both new and veteran Pokemon players. Elliott's popularity spans generations, too: NASCAR fans looking for a new driver after Jeff Gordon's retirement were quick choose the new caretaker of the 24 - a strong driver from day one and possibly the best new talent out there.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Pikachu

What better comparison for the 13-time reigning "Most Popular Driver" award winner than the Pokemon that everyone chooses? Pikachu is the face of Pokemon, just like Dale Earnhardt Jr. really is the face of NASCAR. This little guy is lightning-quick, loyal, and is the only Pokemon famous enough to have his own brand. Need we say more?

Any other suggestions? Comment below and let us know what you think!

Matt Kenseth

Boom, called it. In last week's Victory Lap, we named Matt Kenseth as the one to watch in New Hampshire, and he sure delivered. The Joe Gibbs driver picked up his second win of the season while also adding to his aquarium with his second straight Loudon the Lobster. “You’re always pleased to be in Victory Lane,” Kenseth said. “The farther down the road you get, the better they feel for sure. Thanks to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing – I’ve said it a million times, but I’m blessed with this opportunity to be over here with the guys I get to work with and my great sponsors.”

New Hampshire

 The Richmond Times Dispatch's Chris Wilbers made the trek up to Loudon, N.H. for Sunday's race, and color him impressed. The folks hosting the New Hampshire 301 treated Richmond's own to some first-rate, New England hospitality, but while he notes "you can’t go wrong with a road trip to Loudon in late September," he also mentioned there's still a certain short track that gives you a bit more bang for your buck. Click the link above to find out.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch

Sunday's action saw quite a bit of movement inside the Chase Grid, including JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards locking in their spot in the field of 16. "With NASCAR, it's our playoff. That's what it's all about," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "It's a thrill for us to be in there. I think the key is, as you continue to work during the year, try and keep your performance up and try and point towards the playoffs." So far 11 drivers have wins on the season, leaving just five playoff spots available on points. Tony Stewart, one of those with a 2016 win, continued his rapid climb in the standings with a second-place finish. It was the future Hall of Famer's fourth top-10 in last five races.

Jeff Gordon

Heeeeeee's Bacccckkkkkk?
Late last week Hendrick Motorsports announced that should Dale Earnhardt Jr. be forced to miss this weekend's race in Indianapolis, the recently retired Jeff Gordon would suit up behind the wheel of the No. 88 in his stead. "I think a lot of us on the team have worked for Jeff throughout his illustrious career at Hendrick Motorsports," said crew chief Greg Ives. "To be able to be part of that one more time would be pretty cool for those who have worked with him in the past, but also for those who've never worked with him." It'd definitely be a new look for the NASCAR legend, who spent his career tied with the now-iconic 24. But if you saw him in the booth at all this season, you know he can sport a "new suit" pretty well. 
Brad Keselowski wins back to back

Back-to-Back Brad
For the third time this season we've seen a driver make back-to-back trips to Gatorade Victory Lane. Brad Keselowski followed up his Coke Zero 400 victory with a win at Kentucky this season, marking the fourth win in 2016 for the Penske driver. "These cars were tough to drive today, but a good tough. This was a hard-fought battle, and I'm really proud of everybody on the 2 crew to get win number four and take that first place." With the victory, the 2014 Federeated Auto Parts winner became the first driver to officially clinch a spot in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne

As the weeks keep ticking away, so do the opportunities for drivers to race their way into The Chase. Only eight races remain in the regular season, and with eleven different winners just five Chase spots open through the point system. MRN's Pete Pistone takes a look at some drivers who might be feeling a little extra heat under the summer sun.

Jeb Burton

Richmond-based Estes Express Lines is teaming up with local driver Jeb Burton for two NASCAR XFINITY Series races in 2016. Burton will pilot the No. 98 Estes Ford at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23 and Richmond International Raceway September 9. Estes President and CEO Rob Estes weighed in on the sponsorship. "We're proud of our association with this Virginia native who has gone on to gain national recognition. It's exciting to once again support him as he takes to the track in the No. 98 Estes Ford in Indianapolis and Richmond."

Matt Kenseth

It's been a tumultuous season for Matt Kenseth, who has more laps led (431) than four-time race winner Keselowski (329) - but just two top-5 finishes to show for it. It's been a far cry from his 2015 campaign where only Joey Logano had more wins than his five. However, this weekends contest in New Hampshire might be as good an opportunity as any for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to even the ship. With two wins and an average finish of 12.7, Loudon is one of Kenseth's stronger tracks on the circuit. Look for the reigning Federated Auto Parts 400 champ to find some stability heading into the season's final stretch.

It took him 15 tries, but Brad Keselowski finally raced his way into Daytona's Gatorade Victory Lane in Saturday's Coke Zero 400. The No. 2 Penske Ford driver managed to avoid "The Big One" on Lap 90, which saw over half the field (22 cars) suffer damage, and scored the 100th win for Team Penske. “We had two great cars here with Team Penske and worked together really well,” Keselowski said. “Joey (Logano) has won here and he’s really a pro, especially on that restart. He gave me that push I need to get to the front and here we are at Daytona in Victory Lane. I don’t care if it’s not the 500. It’s Daytona. This is huge. I love this place and here we are in Victory Lane.” Brad's 19 wins for Team Penske trail only Rusty Wallace's 37 for most in the team's history, and his 2014 win in Richmond's Federated Auto Parts 400 marked the most dominating win in Sprint Cup Series competition for the team.

Keselowski wasn't the only one making headlines in Central Florida. We went to the "World Center of Racing" to announce our Fan Appreciation Weekend program for September. It's an entire weekend devoted to showing our gratitude to race fans near and far for the enthusiastic support they have given our sport throughout the regular season, and the NASCAR industry jumped on board the hype train.

Our friends over at Sprint helped kick off the announcement by sending one lucky fan from Daytona to the Federated Auto Parts 400 in September! Orlando native Ashley Miller, will experience Fan Appreciation Weekend firsthand and in style, with all expenses paid, a view from the TORQUE Club and “the works” of passes and credentials for an unforgettable weekend. "I’ve been attending the Daytona races with my Mom for the last eleven years, and I’ve never been to a short track so I’m very excited to go to Richmond," said Miller. "I’ve been a Tony Stewart fan for close to 15 years, and I’m ecstatic to go to the track where he got his first win.”

Through 17 Sprint Cup races, we've seen 11 different drivers in Victory Lane. If history is any indicator, that number might not grow after this weekend's Quaker State 400. Through five Sprint Cup Series events at Kentucky Speedway, only three drivers have won at the 1.5-mile tri-oval: Keselowski (2), Kyle Busch (2) and Matt Kenseth (1). But the speedway underwent a facelift earlier this year - with a repave and reconfiguration in Turns 1 & 2 (increased banking and narrower track), and this weekend marks NASCAR's first crack at the new-look track. Maybe this weekend is the chance for someone like Chase Elliott or Austin Dillon to earn the first win of their promising young careers.