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Chasing the Cup

Chasing 2014 fall Kansas

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

One round—three Chase races—are in the books and fantasy owners know more now about how this new format will impact driver handicaps than they did at the end of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond. It would be a mistake to assume that they know everything necessary to be successful in the final seven races of the Chase, however.

The elimination process for the bottom four drivers was swift and merciless for AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, and Aric Almirola, but they still have an opportunity to contend for fifth-place in the standings. Once a driver is eliminated from championship contention, their points reset to a base of 2,000, plus bonuses for regular season wins and any points earned during the Chase. Pride is on the line for these drivers because no one wants to finish outside the top 10 in the standings.

The Challenger round had an arc to it. The MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland was met with the excitement of a new season and the 16 Chasers raced remarkably well. The Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire was filled with mistakes and accidents for the contenders. And finally, the AAA 400 was marked by feelings of desperation for nine drivers who fell within 18 points of failing to advance to the next round.

These three events were all in the racer’s hands, but the next round is going to be entirely different. Drivers have two races to earn enough points to ameliorate the potential danger of getting swept into a "Big One" crash at Talladega, which happens to be the elimination race for the Contender round. Two drivers will win—and in all likelihood, they will be Chasers—but that means 10 will head to the restrictor-plate, superspeedway without enough points to mathematically guarantee advancement to the Eliminator round. An early crash there could completely alter the standings.

It is also possible that a non-Chaser will win one of the next two events. In 20 Chase races on the next two tracks, five have been won by non-contenders. Greg Biffle was the most recent winner at Kansas in 2007, but Charlotte fell to Brad Keselowski last year after he failed to make the playoffs.

The arc of the Contender round is going to be much smaller. Chasers will think of the next two races as their complete season and that means that some of those at the bottom of the rankings are going to be willing to take some risks.

Brad Keselowski (5 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: first
Last week’s outlook: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 9.67
Charlotte: 13.17
Talladega: 15.67

Keselowski’s victory in the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland was significant because it came on one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. That makes him one of the favorites to win at either Kansas or Charlotte in the next two weeks. The fact that he has finished first or second in four of the last six races this season also makes him one of the top fantasy values for the foreseeable future.

Jeff Gordon (4 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: second
Last week’s outlook: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 13.67
Charlotte: 15.83
Talladega: 21.00

Gordon needs for either the Hollywood Casino 400 or Bank of America 500 to develop a long green flag segment at the end of the race in order to have a shot at Victory Lane and automatic advancement to the next round. While he has improved his ability to restart, he still tends to employ setups that work on long runs. Fortunately, he has gotten them on a few occasions this year, including in the spring Kansas race that he won and again last week at Dover.

Joey Logano (4 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: third
Last week’s outlook: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 18.33
Charlotte: 13.17
Talladega: 27.50

Logano has not looked very good in practice for the past two races, but this team has found the right race day setup. Along with teammate Keselowski and Kyle Busch, he has swept the top 10 and none of the other Chasers can lay claim to that. Logano is the only driver to sweep the top five in the Chase and he will need to finish that well in the next two races to take the pressure off of his Talladega effort.

Kevin Harvick (2 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth
Last week’s outlook: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 6.33
Charlotte: 6.50
Talladega: 21.17

Just when it seemed like this team had their problems in the rearview mirror, they cut another valve stem and lost a lap at Dover. It really does not matter if the issue is a mistake in the pits, by the driver, or simple bad luck—at some point, this may cost Harvick enough points to drop him into the bottom four. That probably will not happen in the next two races, however, because he has one of the best combined, three-year averages at Kansas and Charlotte of all the Chasers.

Jimmie Johnson (3 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth
Last week’s outlook: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 5.17
Charlotte: 12.50
Talladega: 19.83

Assuming they both survive Talladega, the battle for the final transfer spot to the Championship round is going to come down to Harvick versus Johnson. They each have weaknesses, but when everything is equal Johnson has not been able to keep up with the No. 4. He should have an easy task of getting through the next two races on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, however, so his immediate value is high.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth
Last week’s outlook: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 5.17
Charlotte: 7.67
Talladega: 14.50

Kenseth was banged about quite a bit at New Hampshire and he survived nearly every incident. In the final frenetic race to the checkers, he got shuffled back to 21st. He regained his composure and ran well at Dover last week to score a fifth-place finish, but he has lost his consistency for the moment. It has been 16 races since he managed to string at least three top-10s together and that is very un-Kenseth-like.

Kyle Busch (1 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh
Last week’s outlook: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 23.17
Charlotte: 10.33
Talladega: 15.33

Busch has managed to sweep the top 10 in the first three Chase races, but he has done it so quietly that it is hard to imagine him advancing to the final round. At some point he is going to need to challenge for a victory or at least a top-five. His most recent top-five finish came 10 races ago at Indy; his only win of 2014 was back in March at Auto Club. Five of his last eight races have resulted in crash damage, and that should make him extremely nervous about Talladega.

Kasey Kahne (1 win / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth
Last week’s outlook: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 5.67
Charlotte: 5.17
Talladega: 18.00

It did not seem very likely that Kahne was going to advance to the Contender round and after pitting for a loose wheel, he barely squeaked through. Now that he has cleared that hurdle, however, the next one should be easier because he has been one of the best values on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks all year. He has swept the top 15 on this track type and won at Atlanta. He should be able to earn enough points at Kansas and Charlotte to survive Talladega.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: ninth
Last week’s outlook: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 10.00
Charlotte: 19.60
Talladega: 16.50

Earnhardt is a restrictor-plate superstar and he could win Talladega and automatically advance to the Eliminator round, but if he does not pick up the pace in the next two races, that is exactly what he will need to do. After finishing fifth in the Pure Michigan 400 this team lost their spark and has earned only one top-10 in six races.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Last week’s outlook: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 14.20
Charlotte: 8.00
Talladega: 19.67

Hamlin has said that he believed he would be in good shape once he cleared the first round of the playoffs. With an average finish of 18.3 in these three races, he barely did that. Now he hopes to make it to the Eliminator round, which has a pair of short, flat tracks in it. The problem is that he struggled in the last two races on that track type and has become unpredictable as to where he will run well. That is poison for fantasy players.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: 11th
Last week’s outlook: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 21.33
Charlotte: 12.17
Talladega: 23.67

Newman has shown enough consistency to keep him advancing through the ranks under normal circumstances. The problem is that Talladega is a wild card and if he repeats his average finish of about 14th in the next two races while the drivers listed above him score top-fives and -10s, he is going to be in a very vulnerable position on the plate track if the "Big One" erupts.

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 3,000 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th
Last week’s outlook: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Kansas: 9.33
Charlotte: 7.33
Talladega: 21.33

Edwards came close with an 11th at Dover, but he has not earned a top-10 during the Chase. He had only two top-10s in the 12 oval track races that preceded the playoffs and this team does not seem to have obtained a magic wand in the past few races. Biffle dropped easily out of the first series and Edwards is the most likely driver to finish among the bottom four of the Contender round.

  

Three-year averages (sorted by All Remaining Chase tracks’ average)

Driver

Chase
to Date

All Remaining
Chase Tracks

Contender
Tracks *

Eliminator

Tracks ^

Homestead

Matt Kenseth

12.00

9.91

9.11

11.58

8.00

Kasey Kahne

18.67

10.52

9.61

11.08

13.67

Kevin Harvick

7.00

10.94

11.33

10.92

8.67

Carl Edwards

16.00

11.94

12.67

11.67

8.67

Brad Keselowski

3.33

12.45

12.83

11.58

13.67

Jimmie Johnson

6.67

12.48

12.50

9.17

25.67

Greg Biffle

20.00

12.88

14.06

9.00

21.33

Denny Hamlin

18.33

13.16

13.94

12.45

11.33

Kyle Busch

8.33

13.81

16.28

10.45

11.33

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12.33

14.16

15.44

14.00

8.00

Jeff Gordon

9.67

15.76

16.83

16.67

5.67

Aric Almirola

25.00

16.00

16.60

16.00

11.50

Ryan Newman

13.67

16.58

19.06

14.33

10.67

Joey Logano

3.00

16.91

19.67

13.58

13.67

AJ Allmendinger

19.33

21.64

23.33

18.13

25.50

Kurt Busch

20.67

21.79

21.94

21.67

21.33

 

* The Contender tracks are Kansas, Charlotte, and Talladega
^ The Eliminator tracks are Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.