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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Phoenix (Fall)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

There is more than one way to make a positive impact for one’s organization, even if a driver is no longer in Chase contention. Jimmie Johnson winning the AAA Texas 500 last week kept the victory from going to Brad Keselowski, who now finds himself in essentially must-win-to-advance situation. Dale Earnhardt Jr. incurred a penalty from NASCAR for failing inspection too many times and as a result, he was forced to take the last available pit stall. Coincidentally, that was directly in front of another Chase contender Kurt Busch and the penalty on the No. 88 affected the No. 41 just as greatly. The elder Busch brother is in the same boat as Keselowski this week, as is Joey Logano.

The real beneficiary in both cases was Jeff Gordon because he remains the only driver who can relax this week at Phoenix. Everyone else will be a little on edge during the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 and that will impact their emotional security heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Martinsville Speedway was filled with drama and as the final venue for the Eliminator round Phoenix International Raceway should prove to be just as intense.

Jeff Gordon (1 win / 4,082 points)
Chase Outlook: first 
Last week’s outlook: third 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.50
Homestead: 7.33
Chase Wins: Martinsville

NASCAR is filled with great storylines and improbable statistics. Richard Petty has 200 wins, Johnson had five consecutive championships, and Gordon will win the Cup in his final full season of racing to go out at the top of his game. All he has to do is beat three other Chasers to the finish line in the Ford 400 and his three-year average at Homestead is better than any of the projected final four with a single exception: Harvick has a slightly better record, but Gordon has consistency and Fate on his side.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 4,079 points)
Chase Outlook: second 
Last week’s outlook: sixth 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 3.00
Homestead: 6.33
Chase Wins: Dover
Admittedly, Harvick has moved up and down this list as he has gained and lost momentum, but overall he remains one of the two strongest drivers for the season. He will win Phoenix and make the Chase final four, which is going to give him confidence entering the season finale. Last year he won Homestead as well, but that is a track on which it is hard to repeat.

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 4,080 points)
Chase Outlook: third 
Last week’s outlook: second 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 15.20
Homestead: 16.67

Busch is capable of stringing four top-fives together and he should be able to finish the season that way. Unfortunately, he is going to have to challenge for the win in order to take the Cup and the two drivers handicapped above him this week will be hard to beat. Busch will earn a lot of fantasy points in both the Quicken Loans 500 and Ford 400, but he will come up just a little shy of the championship.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 4,076 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth 
Last week’s outlook: fifth 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 21.33
Homestead: 9.00

This team has accomplished so much more than anyone expected and no matter what happens in the next two races, they have to count the 2015 season as a success. It is just too difficult to imagine them beating the other three drivers in the finale. Truex may have to use a little strategy or his front bumper to get to Homestead, but it seems pretty clear he is capable of scoring another top-10 this week to keep the competition at bay.

Joey Logano (6 wins / 4,013 points)
Chase Outlook: fifth 
Last week’s outlook: first 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 13.33
Homestead: 12.67
Chase Wins: Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega

It’s time to say “uncle.” Ten laps into the AAA Texas 500, Logano exploded a tire. A few laps later it was apparent he was not going to return to the track soon enough to remain in contention for the victory. He absolutely has to win at Phoenix and so long as Gordon and Harvick are in the lineup that simply will not happen. Logano is going to have to wait until next year to contend again, and with two near-misses he is going to be a favorite to win it all as soon as the cars hit Daytona International Speedway.

Carl Edwards (2 wins / 4,069 points)
Chase Outlook: sixth 
Last week’s outlook: fourth 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.50
Homestead: 19.33

When Edwards finished in the top five at Texas Motor Speedway and still did not get above the cutoff line for advancement to the championship round, it became apparent that only a driver who has swept the top 10 or has a victory will make the final four. Edwards will score another top-10 at Phoenix, but he is going to come up just a little short in regard to clearing the Eliminator round.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 4,057 points)
Chase Outlook: seventh 
Last week’s outlook: seventh 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 5.67
Homestead: 8.00

When teammate Logano blew a tire on lap 10, it appeared that no one could stop Keselowski from winning. Johnson either had a faster car in short runs or he made better adjustments at the end of the race and swept past the No. 2 Ford with four laps remaining. That is going to be the difference between competing for the Cup and running for a position among the top 10 in the standings.

Kurt Busch (2 wins / 4,057 points)
Chase Outlook: eighth 
Last week’s outlook: sixth 
Next two tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 15.17
Homestead: 13.67

Regardless of where Busch winds up in the points, this has been a learning year for him. He has matured greatly in 2015, which was apparent last week as he struggled to get the handling to a point where the team could win and advance. He also kept his cool with Earnhardt pitting in front of him and impeding his progress on pit stops. If he can keep this attitude, he will contend for next year’s championship as well and could have a shot at winning once Homestead rolls around.

 

Upcoming Tracks Average Finish, last three years, sorted by Chase so Far

Driver

Chase
So Far

Remaining
Chase Tracks

Phoenix

Homestead

Carl Edwards

7.50

14.11

11.50

19.33

Jeff Gordon

8.00

10.11

11.50

7.33

Martin Truex Jr.

8.88

17.22

21.33

9.00

Brad Keselowski

11.50

6.44

5.67

8.00

Kyle Busch

11.63

15.75

15.20

16.67

Joey Logano

12.38

13.11

13.33

12.67

Kurt Busch

12.63

14.67

15.17

13.67

Kevin Harvick

13.50

4.11

3.00

6.33

 

Ryan Newman

12.50

10.89

12.67

7.33

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12.63

12.22

13.83

9.00

Denny Hamlin

13.13

12.44

13.33

10.67

Jamie McMurray

14.63

16.00

14.83

18.33

Jimmie Johnson

16.38

16.33

15.50

18.00

Paul Menard

18.25

17.67

17.50

18.00

Matt Kenseth

19.00

11.22

12.50

8.67

Clint Bowyer

22.00

16.22

21.83

5.00

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the nu

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.