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Chasing the Cup

Chasing 2014 Richmond fall

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

Twenty-five races are in the books and one remains before NASCAR’s unique Chase for the Championship begins. Two berths are unclaimed, which would seem to limit the options of who will be in the playoffs, but NASCAR’s new format leaves the field wide open. Nineteen drivers have an opportunity to grab one of the final berths and put their names in the record books as one of the inaugural challengers for this new championship system.

Only one driver completely controls his own destiny. If there is no new unique winner at Richmond, Newman’s path to the playoffs is simple; he needs to finish only 41st or better to claim his spot, but if someone beneath him in the points wins, his task becomes a little more difficult and he must finish at least 18th to be safe.

Greg Biffle also controls his own destiny, but only if there is not a new winner that is lower than him in the points. If one of the existing winners from this season, Matt Kenseth, or Newman wins, Biffle could lock himself in with a result of 22nd or better. Otherwise, he needs to stay within about 23 positions of Clint Bowyer and 24 of Kyle Larson to secure his spot. Those four drivers are the only ones who can clinch a spot in the Chase without a victory.

The remainder of the top 30 in points has to dig deep and win to advance to the Challenger round of the playoffs—as the first three Chase races are to be known—like Kasey Kahne did last week at Atlanta. For two drivers, it all comes down to one-race, winner-take-all—just like the season finale will at Homestead.

Each week, we will take a look back at the Chase races run so far and forward to the remaining venues on the circuit to predict who is likely to advance to the next round and who is establishing themselves as favorites to win. The numbers will constantly shift and fantasy players have already seen how being in or out of the Chase impacts a driver’s handicap.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 794 points)
Chase Outlook: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 9.50
Chicagoland: 13.33
New Hampshire: 7.83

With a completely new format for the Chase and one regular season race remaining, ranking drivers is difficult at best. With that understanding, it is possible that Kenseth could actually be in the best position to take the championship and he could do that without winning a single race. Winning will advance a driver to the next round, but points will be more important in the final 10 races than at any time in the year and Kenseth has been forced to concentrate on that aspect of racing all season.

Jimmie Johnson (3 wins / 766 points)
Chase Outlook: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 22.33
Chicagoland: 5.67
New Hampshire: 13.17

Fantasy owners should not expect much out of Johnson at Richmond, but once the Chase starts this team will stop experimenting and get down to business. NASCAR could not have created a better scenario for his success since most of the final 10 tracks they visit are among his best. Martinsville, Phoenix, and Kansas are all among his top-five in terms of career-average finishes, but Chicagoland is not far behind.

Jeff Gordon (3 wins / 872 points)
Chase Outlook: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 8.17
Chicagoland: 21.67
New Hampshire: 10.67

In the past several years, Gordon has been difficult to handicap at Richmond and this year will not be any different as he gambles on earning a fourth regular season victory before the Chase begins. He should be looking forward one week because his biggest challenge in the first round of the playoffs will come at Chicagoland where he has two sub-20th-place finishes in the past three years

Joey Logano (3 wins / 791 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 19.17
Chicagoland: 20.00
New Hampshire: 21.67

Based on his past three years on the next three tracks, the 2014 championship would seem to be an uphill battle for Logano. He has earned only four top-10s in 12 races on these courses and only two of those came since joining Penske Racing. He enters this weekend with a ton of momentum on his side, however, in the form of five top-six finishes in the last six races and that should get him over his current hurdle.

Kevin Harvick (2 wins / 748 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 8.83
Chicagoland: 5.67
New Hampshire: 14.67

Harvick has been difficult to handicap in individual races all season, so there is no reason to believe his Chase is going to be any different. At any moment, this team or driver could make a mistake that causes them to finish well outside the top 35 and get eliminated, but if they can avoid that catastrophe they deserve to be ranked among the leaders and could advance all the way to Homestead. The biggest problem is that it is difficult to imagine them putting together 10 mistake-free races and the will get knocked out before the Eliminator round.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3 wins / 851 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 10.33
Chicagoland: 15.33
New Hampshire: 10.67

Earnhardt is fairly well set for the next three weeks, which should firmly establish the No. 88 in the top 12 and allow him to advance to the Contender round. In the 12 races that have been contested in the past three years at Richmond, Chicagoland, and New Hampshire, he earned top-15s in all but one event. His single bad finish came as the result of a blown engine in last year’s Geico 400 in Chicago, so that could cause a little worry.

Brad Keselowski (3 wins / 782 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 13.67
Chicagoland: 4.33
New Hampshire: 4.83

The Chase format would seem to favor someone like Keselowski who can rattle off strong finishes seemingly at will. That ability is what earned him the 2012 championship, but he can also stumble hard on occasion. Until the Chase begins and at least three races are in the books, it will be difficult to know which of these traits is going to be the most impactful. He should easily advance into the second round of the playoffs, however, since his last three-year average finish at Chicagoland and New Hampshire is better than fifth.

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 755 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 7.50
Chicagoland: 11.33
New Hampshire: 12.50

Tying Tony Stewart in championship points in 2011 will haunt Edwards until he finally gets to display the Sprint Cup on his mantle. It is difficult to imagine that happening in his final season at Roush-Fenway Racing, but he should be able to advance into at least the Contender round. He has been remarkably consistent on the next three tracks during the past three seasons with a perfect sweep of top-20 finishes since the beginning of 2012 at Richmond, Chicagoland, and New Hampshire.

Kyle Busch (1 win / 657 points)
Chase Outlook: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 11.50
Chicagoland: 9.33
New Hampshire: 10.17

Busch lacks the consistency that would ever have allowed him to win a season-long or 10-race championship. NASCAR’s new format could play into his favor because he only needs to remain constant for three races at a time. A driver may get away with one bad race in the Challenger round, so Busch needs to get that out of his system early. If he can stay mostly great in the Contender round, he will only need to be perfect at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix to advance to the final four.

Kasey Kahne (1 win / 708 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 17.33
Chicagoland: 9.00
New Hampshire: 13.33

Kahne is in the Chase following his Atlanta victory, but fantasy owners need to question how much emotional energy was expended to get him there. He came close on a number of occasions and was unable to put a complete race together; last week was no exception, but he peaked at the right time.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 636 points)
Chase Outlook: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 14.80
Chicagoland: 26.67
New Hampshire: 12.17

The biggest thing Hamlin has in his favor during the Chase is that three of the final 10 races are contested on flat tracks. The bad news is that none of those will come in the Contender round, which hosts races at Kansas, Charlotte, and Talladega. Hamlin won the Aaron's 499 to get into the Chase, but he will not want to hang his hopes on being able to sweep a restrictor-plate, superspeedway to make to the Eliminator.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 614 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 15.83
Chicagoland: 14.00
New Hampshire: 22.00

Handicapping Busch for the next three weeks comes down to two races. All fantasy players really have to go on is his previous attempts this year on the short, flat tracks of Richmond and New Hampshire because his other recent efforts were in different equipment. Unfortunately, he failed to crack the top 15 in either event and another poor performance at New Hampshire could rob the team of their momentum. Stewart-Haas Racing has also been far from error free on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks as well, so Chicagoland has to be called into question.

AJ Allmendinger (1 win / 590 points)
Chase Outlook: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 12.40
Chicagoland: 24.00
New Hampshire: 20.33

Simply making the Chase was an accomplishment for this single-car team and no matter what happens in the coming weeks, Allmendinger deserves respect. His average finish at Chicagoland and New Hampshire is outside of the top 20, and that leaves the team with very little hope that he will advance to the second round. If he can back up his three-year average finish at Dover, a 17th- or 18th-place result is simply not going to get the job done if he stumbles as expected early in the Challenger round.

Aric Almirola (1 win / 594 points)
Chase Outlook: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 19.40
Chicagoland: 15.00
New Hampshire: 20.00

In the most recent 12 races at Richmond, Chicagoland, and New Hampshire one thing stands out for Almirola and that is that he has figured out how to remain on the lead lap. In five races on this course in 2012, he failed to go the distance a single time. In the most recent seven races, he has completed every lap of competition and that is necessary to record decent finishes.

Not Yet Locked in

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 747 points)
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 9.50
Chicagoland: 7.67
New Hampshire: 17.50

Newman should make his way into the Chase so long as he does not panic. The worst thing this team can do is roll the dice for the win and forget about recording a solid finish. If Newman can score his 17th top-15 of the season in the Federated Auto Parts 400, there is little the competition can do to catch them.

Greg Biffle (0 wins / 728 points)
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 17.17
Chicagoland: 18.33
New Hampshire: 10.50

There are only two drivers in the field that would like to change places with Biffle. Bowyer and Larson would much rather be the one getting chased than the chaser, especially since the No. 16 team has earned five consecutive top-10s since the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono this June.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 705 points)
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.67
Chicagoland: 8.67
New Hampshire: 11.50

Bowyer has been in this position before and rose to the challenge by finishing in the top 10 in the final regular season race. That will not be enough to get him into the Chase, however, unless Biffle stumbles.

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 704 points)
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Richmond: 16.00
Chicagoland: NA
New Hampshire: 3.00

Larson has had a remarkable season even if he fails to advance to Chase. Realistically, he knows that he must win to get in and that is too much pressure to put on a rookie.
 

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


Driver


Richmond


All Chase
Tracks


Challenger
Tracks *


Contender
Tracks ^


Eliminator
Tracks #

 


Homestead

Matt Kenseth

9.50

10.56

12.00

9.11

11.58

8.00

Kevin Harvick

8.83

10.88

10.73

11.33

10.92

8.67

Brad Keselowski

13.67

11.04

7.93

12.83

11.58

13.67

Jimmie Johnson

22.33

11.13

8.13

12.50

9.17

25.67

Kasey Kahne

17.33

11.19

12.67

9.61

11.08

13.67

Carl Edwards

7.50

12.50

13.73

12.67

11.67

8.67

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

10.33

13.24

11.33

15.44

14.00

8.00

Kyle Busch

11.50

13.28

12.13

16.28

10.45

11.33

Denny Hamlin

14.80

14.43

17.07

13.94

12.45

11.33

Jeff Gordon

8.17

14.54

11.87

16.83

16.67

5.67

Aric Almirola

19.40

16.38

17.25

16.60

16.00

11.50

Joey Logano

19.17

16.94

17.00

19.67

13.58

13.67

Kurt Busch

15.83

20.67

18.20

21.94

21.67

21.33

AJ Allmendinger

12.40

21.13

19.89

23.33

18.13

25.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan Newman

9.50

16.85

17.47

19.06

14.33

10.67

Kyle Larson

16.00

15.30

7.00

19.00

16.00

NA

Clint Bowyer

16.67

11.42

9.13

12.56

14.33

4.33

Greg Biffle

17.17

13.73

15.60

14.06

9.00

21.33

* The Challenger tracks are Chicagoland, New Hampshire, and Dover
^ 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.