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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Phoenix (Fall)

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

Carl Edwards’ victory in the Can-Am 500k was a game changer. It moved the bubble position down one and created a scenario in which no one can points race. Everyone has to try to win or at the very least Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin need to finish ahead of two of those others—and since top-10s are common among Chase contenders, a top-five is going to be required to be part of Championship finale.

Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have a simpler task. The must win in order to advance, but even for a driver of Harvick’s talent at Phoenix International Raceway, that is really not that simple. The Can-Am 500 will end and two drives will join Jimmie Johnson and Edwards, but which of them is literally anyone’s guess.   

Projected to make the Finals

Jimmie Johnson (4,074 points / 1st)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.50
Homestead: 9.00
Chase wins: Charlotte (round 2), Martinsville (round 3)

Johnson gained an advantage last week. Goodyear brought the same tire they are going to have in the finale to Texas Motor Speedway and the No. 48 team had a chance to experiment. Now Johnson will try to win Phoenix and keep Harvick out of the finale.

Joey Logano (4,074 points / 3rd)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 8.00
Homestead: 9.33
Chase Wins: Talladega (round 2)

Logano needs to win almost as badly as anyone else in the field, but it is that “almost” that changes things. If he can lead a lap and stay within one or two positions of Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, he will be fine to advance. Not knowing where they will run is a disadvantage and he needs to battle for first or second at the very least.  

Kyle Busch (4,074 points / 4th)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 8.00
Homestead: 15.67

Busch enters the weekend with back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Phoenix. Even a repeat of that will not absolutely guarantee he advances to the Championship finale with a shot at the Cup but it is a better record than the other drivers who are sitting on the cusp.

Carl Edwards (4,049 points / 2nd)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.83
Homestead: 19.00
Chase wins: Texas (round 3)

Edwards’ win last week was not expected by anyone except Edwards. He was practically in a must-win situation and his predicament is precisely what NASCAR had in mind when they devised this format. His moving the bubble further insures that all eyes will be focused on the Chase contenders this week because he made sure that every position counts.

Projected to Fail to Advance to Final Round

Matt Kenseth (4,073 points / 5th)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.20
Homestead: 5.00

It is not that we think Kenseth will finish poorly this week, but even a top-10 is not going to be enough to get him into the final round of the Chase. He’s going to need to earn a top-five and he has only one of those at Phoenix in the past eight and half seasons.

Denny Hamlin (4,074 points / 6th)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 14.33
Homestead: 6.00

Hamlin is a short, flat track master, but Phoenix is one of the track on which he more commonly struggles. In 2010 and 2011, he failed to crack the top 10. Three of his last six efforts there have also missed that mark, but he was third in this spring’s Good Sam 500.  

Kevin Harvick (4,056 points / 7th)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 1.17
Homestead: 4.33
Chase wins: New Hampshire (round 1), Kansas (round 2)

Six of Harvick’s last nine Phoenix races have ended in Victory Lane. Another two ended in runner-up finishes. But there such a thing in NASCAR as going to the well once too often and that is why we do not think he will advance this week

Kurt Busch (4,040 points / 8th)
3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.50
Homestead: 13.33

Busch is more than 30 points behind the transfer spot and must win to advance. We don’t think he can accomplish that, but then again we did not expect Edwards to win last week at Texas. Busch has one Phoenix trophy, but it is dusty having been taken home in 2005.

Eliminated

Martin Truex Jr.
If not for the blown engine at Talladega SuperSpeedway, Truex would still be favored to go all the way based on back-to-back top-10s in his last two starts.

Chase Elliott
Elliott was so strong on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks that it is tragic that he was eliminated because of 30-something results at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Last week’s fourth at Texas Motor Speedway felt like redemption.

Brad Keselowski
Keselowski’s strong showing at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago was not sustainable. He fell to 14th at Texas.  

Kyle Larson
We expected Larson to step up to the plate with better results once he was eliminated. He has not been terrible, but needs better results than his last two top-15s at Martinsville and Texas.

Austin Dillon
Dillon had his best chance to win a Cup race last week at Texas until he spun off the nose of the No. 4. He blames Harvick; the real question this week is: “how much?”

Jamie McMurray
McMurray has not lived up to his potential in recent weeks. He was solid at Martinsville with an eighth, but two of his last three efforts ended in 19ths.

Tony Stewart
Stewart will go gently into that good night, but with Buescher in the original Chase field he will not be the 16th-place driver in the standings.

Chris Buescher
Buescher’s success needs to be gauged on his potential and not that of the other 15 drivers. He finished 21st at Texas, which was not great, but strong for a lightly-funded team.
 

Three-Year Average Finishes

Driver

Avg. Fin
Chase
So Far

|

Phoenix

Homestead

Jimmie Johnson

8.38

|

12.50

9.00

Joey Logano

8.75

|

8.00

9.33

Kyle Busch

8.00

|

11.60

15.67

Carl Edwards

14.38

|

11.83

19.00

Projected to Fail to Advance to the Final Round

Matt Kenseth

8.25

|

12.20

5.00

Denny Hamlin

11.25

|

14.33

6.00

Kevin Harvick

16.25

|

1.17

4.33

Kurt Busch

12.50

|

11.50

13.33

Eliminated

Martin Truex Jr.

10.38

|

12.83

11.00

Chase Elliott

13.88

|

8.00

NA

Brad Keselowski

14.00

|

10.33

4.00

Kyle Larson

15.38

|

15.20

11.00

Austin Dillon

17.38

|

21.20

19.50

Jamie McMurray

20.38

|

12.50

16.00

Tony Stewart

20.75

|

25.50

36.00

Chris Buescher

23.50

|

30.00

NA

 

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 number, the stronger the driver.

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.