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Chasing the Cup

Chasing 2014 fall Phoenix

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

With Jimmie Johnson’s victory in the AAA Texas 500, at least three drivers will advance to the Final Four based on their points’ position. If another non-Chaser wins the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500k, all four slots will be filled that way, which makes last week’s results critical.

Two drivers who were predicted to need victories in order to succeed each had exceptional results while the points’ leaders entering the Texas race finished outside the top 10. The field tightened up to a degree that no one is more than six points behind the elimination bubble. The top-three are the only drivers who control their own fate, unless one of the bottom five finds a way to Victory Lane on Sunday.

This is essentially a one-race brawl to make the Chase and then next week, it is winner take all at Homestead.

Oops, did we say brawl? The AAA Texas 500 ended in another pit road incident, this time involving Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski (with an assist from Kevin Harvick—seriously, check out the hashtag #Harvicking on Twitter). Gordon and Keselowski made contact during the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish while battling for a position in the top five. Gordon’s cut tire as a result may have ended his championship hopes, and he was not pleased. When he expressed that displeasure, it sparked another donnybrook like the one seen at Charlotte.

Joey Logano (5 wins / 4,072 points)
Chase Outlook: first
Last week’s outlook: first

Lost in the chaos that surrounded the end of the AAA Texas 500 was the fact that Logano took the points’ lead and with three drivers advancing via that method, he is the one most likely to control his own fate. Notably, he had the same two issues as Gordon with a slow pit stop and a cut tire at Texas, but both of his problems came early enough to overcome. That could make the difference in the Chase.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 4,054 points)
Chase Outlook: second
Last week’s outlook: third

Harvick is eighth and last in Chase points, but a lot of experts have already described the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500k off as his lose. Even if he does not win, there are enough options to get him into the Final Four on points if he finishes among the top five. Based on his spring Phoenix performance, that would seem to be a given.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 4,037 points)
Chase Outlook: third
Last week’s outlook: seventh

Hamlin has a share of the points’ lead with Logano; both drivers are tied at 13 markers above the Elimination bubble and that is good news for a short, flat track king like Hamlin. He simply needs to finish 11th or better to insure he is still part of the Chase at Homestead and even with his current struggles on this track type, he should be able to accomplish that feat with ease.

Brad Keselowski (6 wins / 4,013 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth
Last week’s outlook: fifth

Most experts assumed that Keselowski and Harvick needed to win at Texas or Phoenix to advance to the Championship round, but they were wrong. Taking out the points’ leader and narrowing the gap is another way to get to the finale. There is too much at stake for anyone to try and retaliate against Keselowski this week, but if he makes it to Homestead a long list of drivers have grievances that could keep him from finishing the Ford 400.

Jeff Gordon (4 wins / 4,044 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth
Last week’s outlook: second

Given his struggles on restarts all season, it is actually poetic that Gordon’s Chase most likely ended moments after a green flag waved. In NASCAR, one has to know who he is racing and what they have to lose—or in Keselowski’s case, what they do not have to lose. The focus on winning has created a myopic situation that caused Gordon to lose his focus.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 4,041 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth
Last week’s outlook: fourth

If Harvick and Keselowski somehow make it into the Championship round it will be at the expense of some of the teams that have shown less strength overall during the season. Newman has been consistent, but a finish in the mid- to high-teens might not be enough if the No. 4 and 2 are battling for a top-five this week like they did at Texas.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 4,039 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh
Last week’s outlook: sixth

Kenseth is tied with Edward for fifth in the points, one marker behind Gordon. He might beat one of those two drivers, but it is unlikely that he will outperform both at Phoenix and that makes his advancement a questionable feat. Edwards has been solid on this dusty one-mile oval in clutch situations and Gordon has been one of the strongest four drivers all year.

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 4,024 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth
Last week’s outlook: eighth

In almost any other situation, Edwards would be considered a strong candidate to advance to Homestead. Phoenix is one of his better tracks and he has snapped long winless streaks there in the past, which means he is a good clutch driver. The problem is going to be the competition and Edwards’ lack of overall momentum throughout the Chase. It’s simply hard to think of him outrunning Gordon, Logano, Harvick, and Keselowski, which is going to push him down the order.

 

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

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Phoenix

Homestead

Kevin Harvick

9.75

7.00

6.17

8.67

Carl Edwards

13.88

9.56

10.00

8.67

Brad Keselowski

12.13

9.78

7.83

13.67

Denny Hamlin

13.38

11.00

10.83

11.33

Jeff Gordon

12.75

12.78

16.33

5.67

Ryan Newman

9.63

13.33

14.67

10.67

Matt Kenseth

12.63

14.11

17.17

8.00

Joey Logano

5.25

14.22

14.50

13.67

 

 

 

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

16.75

10.44

11.67

8.00

Kasey Kahne

22.25

12.44

11.83

13.67

Kyle Busch

11.00

13.11

14.00

11.33

Aric Almirola

26.50

14.29

15.40

11.50

Greg Biffle

18.00

14.89

11.67

21.33

Jimmie Johnson

16.75

15.33

10.17

25.67

AJ Allmendinger

15.88

18.67

15.25

25.50

Kurt Busch

20.75

20.00

19.33

21.33

 

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.